Hundreds of believers milled around outside a small Pingyang County courthouse Tuesday afternoon awaiting the verdict in the case of Wenzhou Pastor Huang Yizi, detained since last August for his opposition to the cross demolitions across Zhejiang province in eastern China.
At 8 p.m., Huang’s lawyer, Zhang Kai, emerged to share the news with Christians who had traveled from all over region: The 40-year-old pastor of Fengwo Church was guilty of “gathering crowds to disturb social order” and sentenced to one year in prison. Zhang decried the entire trial process as “unlawful” and promised to appeal the decision.
Specifically, Zhang told me, the government is punishing Huang for leading a group of church members in singing hymns and praying outside a local public security bureau on July 24. But Zhang believes the move was justified: Three nights earlier, about 100 police officers armed with electric batons beat dozens of Christians who set up guard around Salvation Church to keep authorities from dismantling the cross. Videos from that night show the peaceful crowd singing and praying before police beat churchgoers of all ages, hospitalizing about 10 people. One 78-year-old man sustained a fractured skull and bruised head, according to ChinaAid. That day, Huang and the group of Christians convened outside the government building to seek justice for the wrongs done against their fellow believers.
“Huang went to mobilize these Christians against the demolition, that is something that should be commended, because originally the July 21 demolition was an illegal action,” Zhang said. “For a person to mobilize people against illegal conduct is appropriate and should be promoted in society rather then being seen as criminal.”
But on the morning of Aug. 2, officials grabbed Huang from his home and placed him in detention. According to Huang’s friend John Li (name changed to protect privacy), officials scoured Huang’s records, finances, and personal life, looking for additional offenses to pin on him, but came up empty. They urged him to admit his crime of disturbing the peace, but he refused.
“Huang is an example of someone living out his faith and lifting up his voice,” Li said. “There aren’t many people like this.”
Family and friends hired a team of lawyers, including Zhang, a well-known human rights lawyer in Beijing, to try to find justice in the Chinese courts. Once the government found out Zhang was on the case, officials agreed to release Huang after a month if the family fired the lawyer. But one month, then two months, went by, and Huang remained in detention. When Huang’s friends questioned the police about the broken promise, officials assured them Huang would be out by Christmas.
In January, with Huang still in detention, Zhang filed lawsuits against the county government for violating Huang’s rights and tricking him into dismissing his lawyers. The court immediately rejected the suit.
Zhang pointed out several other irregularities during Tuesday’s trial. Even though as many as 1,000 people convened outside, authorities picked a small courthouse able to hold only 40 people and allowed just six of Huang’s family and friends to sit in on the trial. That goes against the Chinese law allowing for open trials, Zhang said. The judge also refused to accept several pieces of key evidence and would not allow Zhang to discuss the illegality of the police’s actions in beating churchgoers and demolishing the cross atop Salvation Church. Instead, he focused solely on Huang’s hymn-singing outside the station.
Huang’s wife did not attend the trial, as she had traveled to Beijing to petition higher officials, searching for any way to help her husband. Huang, the father of two, is slated to be released from prison Aug. 2, one year from the date he was detained.
Between March and December, authorities tore down more than 400 crosses from church buildings around Zhejiang, ostensibly as part of a project to remove illegal structures. Li said it was quite obvious it was never about buildings without permits. Authorities told some churches they could keep the extra portions of their churches intact as long as the cross came down.
Today, services continue in the cross-less church buildings in Wenzhou, although Li said government control has tightened. Authorities limit children’s fellowships and pastoral trainings, while forcing some Three-Self churches to align more closely with the government. During Christmas, about 10 churches tried to put their crosses back up, but police arrived a day later to take each one back down. At one persistent church, police kept a 24-hour guard around the building to make sure the cross wouldn’t reappear.
But Li sees the good that has come from the church demolitions: Some congregations had fallen away from orthodoxy and embraced the prosperity gospel while others had gotten too concerned with building massive, elegant churches.
“It let all the Wenzhou believers of different backgrounds walk together—both Three-Self and house churches,” Li said. “After this, Wenzhou Christians don’t care about creating great big monuments on earth, but they want to make a difference in the society.”
Courtesy: WORLD News Service
Photo courtesy: Thinkstock
Publication date: March 30, 2015