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By Michael Ireland
ASSIST News Service
CHINA – Twelve house church leaders were arrested at a Christmas celebration in Ma Na Si County in Xinjiang , North West China , on Christmas Day, 2005.
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a Christian human rights watchdog organization, officers of the Religious Affairs Bureau confiscated Christmas food, 80 Bibles, a rented minivan, a car and a piano. One of the female pastors reported that the police stated that the meeting was an “illegal religious gathering.”
CSW says that seven of the pastors were released at midnight the next day, leaving Pastor Guo Xianyao (54), Ms Lu Jianzhen (47), Ms Wu Haifang (28), Ms Wang Ximei (54) and Ms Zhou Bin (50) in custody at Ma Na Si County Detention Center. An eyewitness reported Pastor Guo Zianyao was beaten. All those arrested were fined and fingerprinted.
In a separate incident on Christmas Eve, CSW says police forcibly ended a house church meeting and directed about 100 Christians who were meeting at Korla City in Xinjiang to go to the government-sanctioned Three Self Patriotic Movement church.
CSW reported: “Meanwhile a Christian businessman from Xinjiang, Tong Qimiao, has been fined 15,000 yuan (£1,150) for ‘illegal’ business practice. A government source told China Aid Association that this was to punish him for a legal challenge he mounted against an official who assaulted him for his connection with house church activities. Mr Tong had been severely beaten and suffered a broken rib on September 28 2005.”
CSW said Gao Zhisheng, a prominent human rights lawyer, has just issued a report into persecution against Christians in Xinjiang.
In an e-mail report obtained by ANS, CSW says: “Mr Gao, a Beijing lawyer, has himself been threatened by state security agents in connection with his defence work, which has included the recent case of prominent house church leader Pastor Cai. His law firm’s work has been officially closed down for a year and his licence to practice suspended.”
CSW said Gao took statements from 13 believers to demonstrate the torture and abuse faced by house church Christians in Xinjiang.
The CSW report continues: “One of them, Lingzhi Xia, 63, who suffers from coronary heart disease and high blood pressure, was in a church meeting in Xinjiang on August 5 when the police burst in. She was slapped in the face and interrogated several times. Her son, who had always had high blood pressure, suffered a fatal cerebral haemorrhage the day after hearing that she was wanted as a criminal by the Ministry of Public State Security. She and her family have been told that she has been sentenced to three years’ re-education through labor.”
CSW says another house church Christian, Lianru Ma (name changed for security reasons), was beaten with police belts after being arrested at a gathering of Christians. He was told he belonged to a cult and did not have official approval. He was chained to a radiator for two days before being released.
“Other Christians were beaten, interrogated and fined. 29 year old Lin Jiang (name changed) was placed on the ‘Tiger’s Bench’ for almost 30 hours and severely beaten,” CSW said.
Mr Gao concludes his report: “A huge police force exists only for the purpose of suppressing the value of freedom of belief. Year in and year out, brutal arrests, suppression, crackdowns and ‘interrogating’ the Christians are all the work this band of policemen has to do.”
Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of CSW, said: “We are deeply troubled by the persecution that the Christians in Xinjiang are suffering simply for peacefully following their faith. If the Chinese authorities want the international community to believe they respect religious freedom they need to act decisively to bring an end to these and the many other violations of religious freedom taking place across China.”