BosNewsLife – A major religious rights group urged the British government Tuesday, November 8, to discuss with visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao the situation of a key house church leader who was sentenced earlier in the day to three years imprisonment by a Beijing court on charges of “illegal business practices”.
UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which made the appeal, said the “false” charges against Pastor Cai Zhuohua stem from the discovery of 200,000 copies of the Bible and other Christian literature in his storage room, which he allegedly printed for distribution.
His wife, Xiao Yunfei received two years and her brother Xiao Gaowen one and a half years imprisonment on the same charges. Xiao Gaowen’s wife Hu Jinyun, another co-defendant, was exempted from criminal punishment and was expected to be released after her lawyer completes legal papers, several sources said.
In a statement to BosNewsLife, CSW Advocacy Director Tina Lambert said her organization had urged the British government to raise the issue urgently with President Hu during his three day state visit.
“That a house church leader should be sentenced to three years for producing religious material the very morning of the arrival of the [Chinese] president surely demands comment,” Lambert said. “We urge those meeting with President Hu to press upon him the importance that the UK attaches to freedom of religion and speech, and to urge for reforms that will ensure true protection of these rights for every Chinese citizen.”
President Hu Jintao, who is staying at Buckingham Palace , will be meeting senior Government and opposition parliamentarians over the next few days. “CSW has urged these key figures to raise Pastor Cai’s case,” the organization said. He will appeal to
Pastor Cai was abducted from a bus stop and dragged into a van by three plain-clothed State Security officers on September 11 2004, church sources said. “According to a former fellow inmate, Pastor Cai was repeatedly tortured with electric shocks and forced to give false confessions to serious charges,” CSW added. His wife and other family members were detained later in the month.
Pastor Cai has a five-year-old son who is being cared for by his grandmother. Neither of them was allowed to visit the family during their detention, CSW claimed. The detention of Pastor Cai has underscored growing concern within churches and the human rights community about what they say is increased persecution of the house church movement in China .
Christian Aid Association (CAA), another religious advocacy group, said Tuesday, November 8, that in one of the latest incidents six house church leaders from Henan Province were arrested on November 6 during Sunday worship with about 100 believers.
Two of them, Yuan Quansan and Guang Wei, were believed to be still in detention Tuesday, November 8.
CAA said it has also received “reliable reports” that about a dozen house church leaders of the influential China Gospel Fellowship movement have been arrested in various cities in Hunan Province since July of this year.
Some church leaders were given unknown drugs, tortured and forced to spy on the church, a common tactic in Communist countries, CAA claimed. There was no immediate independent confirmation of these reports. Several human rights groups, including Amnesty International (AI), have expressed concern about the treatment of religious minorities.
In a report released ahead of President Hu’s visit, CSW investigators also cited “a number of accounts” from Xinjiang Province , “where it appears a comprehensive campaign against Christians is being conducted.”
“Amongst the most unpleasant of the incidents was one in which police raided a house church service in Hejing County in Xinjiang on August 7 and arrested some 30 Christians. More than ten of the Christian women were stripped and paraded in front of the others. Those women who refused to remove their clothing were severely beaten. One woman was so traumatized by the humiliating treatment that she attempted to commit suicide by beating her head against the wall,” CSW explained.
Earlier in May nearly 600 Christians were arrested in a raid of around 100 independent churches in Jilin province in northeast China , the group claimed. “We urge the Government and those meeting with [Chinese] President Hu to impress upon him the need to implement true religious freedom in China and to address the significant concerns regarding individuals who are suffering unjust treatment and detention due to their religious faith,” Lampert added.
Most of China ‘s up to 80-million Christians are believed to worship in ‘unofficial’ house churches, despite persecution, church sources say. The Chinese government has denied human rights abuses.