China Church Leaders Imprisoned For “Leaking State Secrets”, Police Treatment Condemned
By Stefan J. Bos Chief International Correspondent, BosNewsLife
BosNewsLife (8/7/06) — A Chinese court sentenced officials of China’s rapidly growing independent house church movement to up to three years in prison Friday, August 6, on charges of leaking “state secrets” to overseas organizations, human rights watchers said.
In a statement to the Associated Press (AP) news agency, the China Aid Association (CAA) reported that the Intermediate Peoples Court of Hangzhou city in Zhejiang found Xu Yonghai, Liu Fenggang and Zhang Shengqi “guilty of passing on information to an overseas magazine” about a court case involving another house church member.
‘House churches’ are called that way because their believers often meet secretly in homes as they have no access to official buildings because Communist authorities refuse to recognize them as the “official church.”
Liu received three years for passing on information about the destruction of unofficial churches outside Hangzhou in a crackdown last year, AP quoted CAA as saying. Xu received two years and Zhang one year, the group said. (Picured, a destroyed church. Source: CAA)
The men reportedly attempted to publicize last year’s crackdown of hundreds of ministers and worshippers who human rights watchers say were detained in sweeps by police, while dozens of churches were destroyed. Similar attacks have continued this year, human rights groups say. Recently hundreds of Evangelical believers were detained, and Christians have been tortured and even killed, according to church officials and human rights watchdogs.
Despite harassment, fines and the possibility of prison, millions of Protestants and Catholics continue to attend unauthorized assemblies, including in private homes. Chinese officials have denied violating religious freedoms, saying detained activists are criminals who violated Chinese law and threatened national security, AP reported Friday, August 6.
Analysts say China stages such crackdowns to enforce its insistence that Christians worship only in government-controlled churches. However following international pressure, Chinese authorities said police officers will be held accountable and could be fired and prosecuted for the death of people detained in prison or under interrogation, news reports claimed Friday August 6.
The new Regulation on Continuing Interrogation was announced Thursday, August 5, on the website of the Ministry of Public Security and aims at protecting the legal rights of detainees and also applies for suicides, reported AsiaNews, a well informed internet news portal.
News about the decision came after an appeal made by the family of Wang Dawei, a government bureaucrat who died under custody. Torture and violence against Christian and political prisoners are very common in China , human rights groups say. Earlier this year Beijing postponed a scheduled visit by a U.N. representative investigating the allegations of torture, saying it needed more time for preparations.
AsiaNews said Song Mengqing, a lawyer based in Henan province, called the new regulation a step forward.” “To limit the power of the powerful institution is a protection of civil rights, the lawyer said, but he cautioned it is unclear how the regulations would be implemented. A Chinese priest told AsiaNews that “many regulations…are not upheld. Free the imprisoned bishops and then there will be time for talk.
Catholics have not forgotten the Bishop of Baoding ( Hebei ), Joseph Fan Xueyan, whom many would like to see canonized as a new martyr of China . In 1992, after months of detention, he was returned dead by police: his body was closed in a plastic bag and showed evident signs of torture, AsiaNews reported.
Among Protestants, evangelical groups such as the Church of South China , who have suffered torture on various occasions and whose founder, Gong Shengliang, is still in prison. Several evangelical Christians are known to have been tortured to death this year, including a church teacher as well as a woman who distributed bibles, BosNewsLife monitored.