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China Church Leader Jailed Over Massive Bible Imports From South Korea

ICC Note

“Brother Zhou was beaten in prison severely by other inmates and prison guards,”

Sunday, 09 September 2007 CHINA (BosNewsLife)– A well-known Chinese house church leader was believed to be behind bars Sunday, September 9, after he was detained by Chinese security forces and allegedly beaten for receiving three tons of Bibles from South Korean churches, fellow believers said.

Zhou Heng, who is the manager of a registered Christian bookstore, the Yayi Christian Book Room, was detained August 3 in Urumqi , the capital of China ‘s autonomous region of Xinjiang,said the Christian Aid Association (CAA) in a statement to BosNewsLife.

CAA, a religious rights group with close ties to Chinese house churches, said his bookstore has already been “forced to close after his arrest” by local authorities, although it had received permission to “sell some Christianity related books published legally and officially inside China .”

A formal arrest notice approved by local law enforcement officials and sent to his wife Chen Jihong said he had been charges with running an “illegal business operation.” Zhou Heng is “currently detained” at the main Xishan Detention Center , CAA said. If convicted of the charges, he could face a maximum sentence of 15 years imprisonment, BosNewsLife learned.

ZHOU JAILED

CAA said Zhou was jailed on August 3 while picking up “three tons of Bibles at a bus station.” The Bibles were reportedly donated by South Korean churches and intended to be distributed among local believers free of charge. South Korea is the second most active country in missions, after the United States , according to estimates.” However, the Chinese government only allows officially sanctioned (state) churches to print and distribute a limited number of Bibles each year,” CAA said.

There has been concerns about the treatment Zhou receives in prison, after a recently released inmate claimed “Brother Zhou was beaten in prison severely by other inmates and prison guards,” CAA said. There was no immediate independent confirmation of that report, but several human rights groups and United Nations officials have in the past expressed concerns about the circumstances of prisoners in China ‘s often overcrowded jails.

CAA said that a well-known Christian human rights defense lawyer, Zhang Xingshui, agreed to represent Zhou Heng in the court. There was some more positive news in other areas of China, CAA said, as seven house church leaders detained since August 21 in Inner Mongolia were released.

PASTORS IDENTIFIED

CAA identified the four pastors from Liaoning province as pastors Qin Tao, 29, Wang Cong, 34, Wang Shengjun, 34, Wang Youjun, 47. They were released along with three unidentified Christian women leaders with whom they were detained in Inner Mongolia during a worship service at a house church in Leizhiwa village, CAA said.

A crackdown on house churches has been linked to concern among Communist officials about the spread of Christianity in China , ahead of the Olympic Games in Beijing next year.

Chinese officials have strongly denied human rights abuses, saying Christians are free to worship, but only in the denominations approved by the state