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China Arrests House Church Leaders in Xinjiang

by Xu Mei

5/18/07 China (Compass Direct News) – Government-sanctioned persecution of Christians has darkened the landscape of the Xinjiang province in north-western China .

Most recently, an estimated 30 house church leaders were arrested on April 19 in Aksu city, near China ’s border with Kazakhstan , as they met with four U.S. Christians. According to China Aid Association (CAA), on April 20 authorities released eight of the Chinese house church pastors but accused at least six others of being “suspects involved in evil cult activities.”

Pastors Zhao Xinglan, Huang Xiurong, Yang Tianlu, Wang Chaoyi, Lu Cuiling and He Sijun were given criminal detention papers under which they are being held for 37 days, according to CAA. They could be sentenced to one to three years of “re-education through labor,” because two years ago they were detained for one month for organizing house church activities.

CAA reported that the Chinese government is preparing harsh sentences for the six accused pastors because of their association with the U.S. Christians. At least two of those arrested, eyewitnesses told CAA, suffered bloody noses and bruising from violence inflicted on them at the interrogation site in Aksu.

The four U.S. Christians, including two pastors, were also arrested, according to CAA. As is usual in such cases, authorities held them in a hotel for interrogation. After intervention by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing , the four U.S. Christians were released and flew home.

Authorities in late April raided two of the homes of house church Christians hosting the U.S. citizens and confiscated computers and other valuable items.

Regional Sensitivities

Over the last two years, a number of other house church Christians have been arrested in Xinjiang. Several foreign Christian workers have also been expelled.

The Xinjiang region is supposedly an “autonomous” area for the indigenous Uygur people, who are Muslim and strongly resent rule from Beijing . Recently the Chinese army broke up a terrorist training camp near the border run by Uygur separatists.

Because of the political sensitivity of the region, the Christian community in Xinjiang is particularly vulnerable. Overwhelmingly based in the Han Chinese community, the Christians find themselves caught between hostile Muslim fundamentalists and suspicious government authorities.

Even so, both state-sanctioned and illegal house churches flourish. State church sources in 2002 estimated the total number of area Protestants at 130,000 – compared with fewer than 100 in 1949.

The government has banned the large state-sanctioned church from evangelizing Muslims in Urumqi , the capital, and other cities. The few Uygur converts from Islam are largely isolated.

Western Christian workers have to be more low-profile than in other parts of China .