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Does release of church leader signal change?

ICC Note: We need to continue to put pressure on China to stop the persecution of Christians and allow religious freedom for everyone

3/1/07 China For full story….(World Net Daily) The recent early release of a Christian house church leader from a prison sentence for talking to international organizations about the destruction of a house church in China has advocates of religious freedom in the restricted nation wondering whether changes are coming.

The current case involves Liu Fenggang, who was released recently after serving most – but not all – of his three-year prison term for “providing national intelligence to overseas organizations,” according to the organization that supports and advocates for persecuted Christians around the world. At least it’s an acknowledgement in this case that the Chinese government is aware of world opinion.

“We believe that may be part of the reason he has been allowed to go free before his sentence is absolutely up, is because the Chinese government is aware that Christians around the world are aware of the situation, that they’re watching what happens to Liu Fenggang,” said Todd Nettleton.

When Liu was released, he expressed his gratitude for the help his family received while he was detained. “I am thankful of God’s grace and the prayers and letters from brothers and sisters all over the world. The suffering my wife and son had to endure is nothing compared to the martyred brothers and sisters in China ,” he said. “I will continue to stand up for this just cause for which I am called to speak up for the persecuted.”

His arrest in October 2003 and three-year prison sentence imposed in August 2004 was for providing that “national intelligence,” or a report on the destruction of a house church, to Christian groups outside of China .

Liu, now 48, is a veteran of the war between Christianity and secularism in China , having spent several years in a labor camp earlier because of his work with house churches. During his most recent imprisonment, he was hospitalized several times with heart problems and diabetes.

“I join with my brother in thanking those who have prayed for and written letters of encouragement during his time in prison,” said Nettleton, “We are thankful for Brother Liu’s example and faithfulness, and we pray for other Chinese Christians still in Communist prisons.”

China is listed at No. 12 on this year’s World Watch List compiled by Open Doors USA, a ranking of nations around the globe that persecute Christians. In China , only those churches organized and controlled by the government are allowed; but the “house church” movement of Christians joining together and worshipping is growing quickly, with estimates of 3,000 Christians being added daily to the church.

And while there is rejoicing over the release of Liu, advocates for religious freedom note that in other cases China is maintaining its opposition to Christianity. As WND reported just a week earlier, another house church leader, Hua Huiqi, recently was beaten and arrested for helping persecuted Christians pursue complaints with the central government of Beijing over their treatment by local officials. His 76-year-old mother also was arrested and beaten.

Liu’s case was monitored by Amnesty International, and a report from the University of Minnesota noted that Liu’s conviction in the Hangzhou Intermediate People’s Court found him guilty of “illegally sending State secrets abroad,” because of information he provided to groups such as the United States-based Christian Life Quarterly about Christian persecution in China .

The report said the trial was in secret and Chinese sources reported the prosecution was “arbitrary” because he was just exercising his “right to freedom of conscience and religion and his right to freedom of expression.”

“Also, the source mentions that the investigation and reporting of incidents of government oppression of religion, in particular of Home churches, does not involve any questions of national intelligence and national security that would justify limiting the freedom of expression,” the university assessment said.

“Article 111 of the Criminal Law of China is overly broad and was misused to punish the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression as a crime against State security; and … the conviction and detention of Mr. Liu violate articles 35 (freedom of speech), 36 (freedom of religion) and 41 (right to criticize abuses by State organs) of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China,” it continued.

China is under pressure during this time to address human rights abuses because of the 2008 Olympic Games which are scheduled for Bejing.

“The charge against Brother Hua is totally baseless and it’s clearly … revenge to Hua’s Christian ministry to the oppressed,” said Bob Fu, who works with Hua. “Hua’s case should be seen as a litmus test on whether China is sincere to improve its worsening human rights record before the 2008 Beijing Olympics.”

The group also noted that thousands of Chinese are being evicted from their homes in order to make way for redevelopment projects in preparation for the Games.