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Chinese House Church Leader Cai Zhuohua Released

Pastor is warned to stop practicing faith outside of government-sanctioned church.

ICC Note: Mr. Zhuohua’s release does not come without further threats. Chinese authorities have been trying house church leaders under Article 225 of China ’s Criminal Law against “illegal acts in business operations” which makes all Christian literature, including the Bible, illegal. Cai and his relatives were tortured during interrogation and then imprisoned for years for printing Christian books for free distribution throughout the house church networks, what will come next?

by Jeff M. Sellers

9/19/07 China (Compass Direct News) – Beijing house church leader Cai Zhuohua, jailed since 2004 for “illegal business practices” by distributing Christian literature, has been released with stern warnings to stop practicing his faith outside of the government-sanctioned church.

Bob Fu of China Aid Association (CAA) told Compass that on Thursday (September 13), three days after Cai’s release on September 10, officials of China ’s Public Security Bureau (PSB) took the well-known Beijing house church pastor to their offices and tried to intimidate him with threats.

“They warned him to be careful – not to be interviewed, to obey the law and not attend religious activities,” Fu said.

Officials from the National Security Bureau – China ’s equivalent of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency – on two occasions gave Cai similar warnings before he was released, Fu said. As an ex-convict whom the government is especially interested to control, Fu said, Cai must report to the PSB once a month.

Cai is now at home in Beijing with his wife and mother, who leads a church that meets in their house.

Deprived of his Bible while in prison, Cai was forced to make soccer balls for the 2008 Beijing Olympics for 10 to 12 hours a day, according to the CAA. Cai’s mother, Fu said, reported that the pastor was well and in good spirits.

Cai was sentenced to three years in prison on November 8, 2005 for “illegal business practices” and fined 150,000 yuan (then about US$18,500). His wife, Xiao Yunfei, was sentenced to two years and fined 120,000 yuan, and her brother Xiao Gaowen was given an 18-month sentence and a fine of 100,000 yuan. Both were released after serving out their sentences.

Having been arrested on September 11, 2004 at a bus stop by state security officers, Cai had been incarcerated for three years by last September 10 even though he was not convicted until November 2005. At the time of his arrest, authorities found more than 237,000 pieces of printed Christian literature, including Bibles, in a storage room he managed.

By law, only the government-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) church is allowed to print and distribute Bibles in China .

The U.S. State Department’s 2007 International Religious Freedom Report, released last week, noted that many unregistered evangelical Protestant groups refuse to register with TSPM due to theological differences, fear of adverse consequences if they reveal names and addresses of church leaders or members, or fear that it will control sermon content.

“Many evangelical house church groups also disagreed with the TSPM’s admonitions against proselytism, which they consider a central teaching of Christianity,” the report states.

Another house church leader, Zhou Heng in Xinjiang region, was arrested in August on the same charge as Cai, as he was caught receiving three tons of Bibles from another city, according to the CAA.

Crackdown on Christian Literature

Recently Chinese authorities have been trying house church leaders under Article 225 of China’s Criminal Law against “illegal acts in business operation,” according to Fu of the Midland, Texas-based CAA.

In 1998, the Supreme People’s Court issued a ruling that allows courts to use Article 225 to imprison anyone who “publishes, prints, copies, or distributes illegal publications.”

Cai’s defense lawyers had argued that the books were printed for free distribution throughout house church networks and should not be considered a “profit-making” venture as the government charged.

The judge rejected these arguments. Shortly after his conviction, a court clerk visited Cai at the Qinghe detention center and warned him that his sentence would be increased if he “annoyed” the judges with an appeal. Facing heavy pressure, Cai and his family agreed to drop the appeal.

After their arrest in September 2004, sources said, Cai and his relatives were tortured during interrogation.

CAA reported that the arrest of Zhou Heng on August 3 was not formally approved by Shayibake District People’s Procuratorate of Urumqi city until August 31, when notice was sent to his wife, Chen Jihong, by the Urumqi Municipal Public Security Bureau. CAA said Zhou is being held at Xishan Detention Center .

He was arrested after he went to a bus station to pick up three tons of donated Bibles intended for local believers free of charge. If convicted of the charges, he faces a 15-year prison sentence.

CAA investigators who spoke with a released inmate who shared a cell with Zhou reported that prison guards and other inmates severely beat Zhou.

Also a well-known house church leader, Zhou is manager of a registered bookstore called Yayi Christian Book Room, which is used to sell Christian literature published legally and officially inside China .

The bookstore has been forced to close following his arrest.