12/22/2012 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – While it may take a little longer to have an estimate of how many Christians were arrested and detained in China this year, the number is likely to be very high, as the communist government continued to crack down on house churches.
Last year, the incidence of arrests and detentions of Christians in China increased by about 130 percent compared to the previous year, according to the U.S.-based ChinaAid, which tracks persecution of Christians in that country. This year, too, a sudden increase in arrest and disappearance of Christians was noticeable both before and after the 18th National Party Congress held in November, during which a historic leadership change took place.
“The Communist Party’s hostile attitude towards religious adherents was made clear in the run-up to the Congress last month as local authorities were encouraged to crack down on ‘dissident’ Christian groups and ‘clean up’ their areas by halting Christian activity,” said Ryan Morgan, International Christian Concern’s Regional Manager for Southeast Asia.
Christians of China’s house churches are often implicated on “cult” charges.
Seven Christians who had earlier been charged with "cult" crimes went on trial on Dec. 14 in Pingdingshan, Henan province, ChinaAid reported. While they pleaded not guilty, the court adjourned, giving no date for the next hearing. The seven were among 54 believers from the Daying village house church detained in an April 14 raid.
Days before the trial, police detained a well-known preacher, Cao Nandi, and eight of his associates - seven of them women, lay workers of the Guanai (Caring) Center and the Meilin Church Gospel Team – while they were preaching about the real meaning of Christmas on Dec. 8 in a park in the southern town of Shenzhen. They were subsequently released.
Prisoners are also often tortured and medically neglected in China.
The family of a well-known Chinese human rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, who was detained in early 2009 for defending persecuted groups in China, is worried about his safety. The Epoch Times reported on Dec. 18 that on the eve of the Congress, Gao’s family received a letter, allegedly written by him and saying they should not visit him in the remote province of Xinjiang. “After receiving this letter, it made us more nervous and doubtful. His elder brother felt uneasy since he had never seen the thumbprints before and said they were very unusual,” Gao’s wife, Geng, was quoted as saying. Gao, who was convicted for “inciting subversion of state power” and sentenced to three years in prison in 2006, disappeared in early 2009.
Gong Shengliang, the founder of the South China Church who was one of 17 church leaders arrested in Dec. 2001 and sentenced to 19 years in prison for "using a cult to undermine law enforcement," suffered a stroke on Dec. 2. He is paralyzed and unable to speak, but prison officials have refused the family's request to release him on medical parole, ChinaAid reported on Dec. 14. “We ask brothers and sisters from churches everywhere to extend a helping hand to our teacher Gong Shengliang, whose life is at stake, to pray for him...and pay attention (to his case), so that he can be released on medical parole as soon as possible and receive timely treatment,” the family said in an appeal letter.
While there were frequent reports of arrests this year, only few were released
Pastor Shi Enhao, vice president of the Chinese House Church Alliance who was sentenced last summer to a two-year term in a labor camp, was surprisingly released in January. He was arrested in March 2011 while preaching in Nanyang, Henan province. However, Alimujiang Yimiti, a Xinjiang Uyghur house church leader who was arrested in January 2008 and sentenced to 15 years of incarceration for allegedly instigating separatism and stealing, penetrating, purchasing and illegally providing State secrets to overseas organizations and individuals, remains in prison despite calls by international groups for his release.
Spread of Christianity – outside of the official church, which is controlled and regulated by the government - is seen as threat in China, and the country’s leadership at the highest levels is behind the increased Christian persecution of recent years.
ChinaAid last week released a secret Communist Party Central Committee document, which last year asked officials to resist “foreign use of religion to infiltrate institutes of higher education and preventing campus evangelism.” “With China’s rapid economic and social development and the steady growth of China's comprehensive national strength, [f]oreign hostile forces have put even greater emphasis on using religion to infiltrate China to carry out their political plot to westernize and divide China," the document said. "Foreign forces regard institutes of higher education as key targets for using religion, Christianity in particular, for infiltration.”
Morgan said, “The ongoing suppression of Christian house churches and the regular arrest of Christians in China, including pastors and human rights lawyers, must come to an end.” He called on China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, to “immediately end police raids on places of worship and to release those who have been imprisoned for practicing or sharing their faith.”