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China: Christian Bookstore Owner Re-arrested

ICC Note:

Shi Weihan, the owner of a bookstore near the Olympic Village in Beijing who was previously arrested (and subsequently released for “insufficient evidence”) for publishing Bibles and Christian literature was reportedly re-arrested on March 19. Shi is not allowed visitors, and his wife says is concerned for his health, as her husband has diabetes.


4/18/08 China (CompassDirect)

A bookstore owner in Beijing has been re-arrested for publishing Bibles and Christian literature after he had been released in January due to “insufficient evidence.”

Shi Weihan, a 37-year-old father of two, was re-arrested on March 19 and has been held without any family visits allowed, according to his wife Zhang Jing. Shi was first arrested on November 28, 2007, and held until January 4.

His wife said she had received no word on her husband’s condition, and she has been prohibited from bringing him any food or change of clothing since his re-arrest. Zhang said she is “very concerned” about her husband’s health, as he has diabetes.

Operating a bookstore located near the Olympic Village, Shi had never had any problems with authorities before his arrest last November, according to a long-time friend. His bookstore operated legally, and it sold only books for which he had obtained government permission.

Under his Holy Spirit Trading Co., Shi printed Bibles and Christian literature without authorization for distribution to local homes churches, according to Asia Times Online. Last January, Zhang told the news service that Shi was concerned about publishing the unauthorized books, but that because the churches needed them he felt the risk was worth taking.

Pastors from both house churches and official Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) congregations have reported to Compass a shortage of Bibles and other Christian materials in Beijing, the northwest, the northeast, and the southwest. Church growth in tribal areas also has created an urgent need for Bibles in minority languages.

Believers across China report a shortage of Bibles and other Christian resources. The China Christian Council (CCC) claims that Amity Press, the only legal publisher of Bibles in China, is producing enough Bibles to meet the demand. The Council, however, puts the total number of Protestant believers in China at only 16 million – including only the members of government-approved churches – whereas a survey carried out by the East China Normal University in 2005 and 2006, published in February 2007, stated that China had 40 million Protestants.

Other China observers estimate the number of Protestant Christians is at least 60 million, and some estimates of total Christians – including now the Chinese government’s own internal research – rise to 130 million.

Amity Press has printed a 50 million Bibles since it was founded in 1987, but there is dispute about how many of those were exported, in spite of Amity’s claim that 41 million went for national distribution. In addition, many Bibles have been confiscated, burned, or worn out due to overuse. In some areas, house church members still take turns reading the only available copy of Scripture.

In March 2007, Compass spoke with several house church leaders in Kunming who reported an acute lack of Bibles – in a city where Bibles previously were readily available from TSPM churches. Bibles also have been deliberately withheld from house church pastors; one such pastor told Compass he was refused Bibles when he approached a TSPM church.

Olympic Fears

The arrest of Shi appears to be part of a crackdown on religious groups that the government fears could raise dissident voices during Olympic Games set to begin in August.

The U.S. State Department’s 2007 International Religious Freedom Report noted that Chinese authorities interrogated house church leaders about the possibility of disrupting the Games – something the normally low-profile groups would be hard-pressed to undertake.

Leaders of house churches are not considered to have the legal standing to object to government policies, and they are well aware of occurrences that the state department report noted – religious adherents and members of spiritual movements in China being beaten in custody, with some dying in police detention because of their religious belief or practice.

Public Security Bureau officials have been known to use deprivation and torture to force detainees to reveal information about others.

In January Zhang told Asia Times Online that her husband, whose bookstore is about two miles from the Olympic venue, had no plans to protest during the Games.

Shi’s 7-year-old daughter, En Mei (Grace), was born in the United States and has U.S. citizenship, which the family hopes could help in securing his release.

Publishers Targeted

Another bookstore owner, Zhou Heng, was arrested and detained in Xinjiang province on August 3, 2007 for receiving a shipment of Bibles. His Yayi Christian Book Room was officially registered.

Zhou revealed last week that he had been cleared of charges and released from prison on February 19.

Publishers and distributors of Christian literature were among four key targets of Chinese authorities in 2007, according to a recent China Aid Association (CAA) report. The Midland, Texas-based organization reported a total of 60 incidents of persecution of Christians in 2007, a 30.4 percent increase over 2006, when it recorded 46 cases of persecution.

Last year, 693 people were arrested and detained, a 6.6 percent increase over CAA’s previous year figure of 650. Police or religious affairs personnel physically abused 35 people in 2007, and 16 were sentenced to imprisonment, down 5.9 percent from the organization’s 2006 count of 17.

Of the 693 people arrested and detained, 415 – almost 60 percent – were church leaders rather than lay people, the trend most noticeable over the past two years, according to CAA. Almost without exception, those arrested and detained were from unregistered house churches.

Incidents included the arrest and sentencing of Christian rights defender and pastor Hua Huiqi in Beijing on January 26, 2007. Officials attacked and beat Pastor Hua on October 11, 2007 so badly that he was unconscious for three days and required hospitalization.

The U.S. State Department’s annual religious freedom report concluded that China’s “respect for freedom of religion remained poor, especially for religious groups and spiritual movements that are not registered with the government.”