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A Special Report by ICC
9/16/2013 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – More than a year after seven Christians were illegally detained, falsely accused of organizing a cult, and sentenced to prison, there remains little progress in their fight for freedom.
The Initial Arrest of the Christians
On April 14, 2012, more than 200 police officers and government officials in Henan province stormed into a house church, taking more than 50 Christians into custody and detaining eight of them, violating their legal and civil rights in the process.
In a needless move that only underlined their intent to intimidate, the entire police force of Ye county, officials from the township government, armed police, the fire brigade and anti-terrorism police were all gathered in force to execute the raid.
The police were equipped with two water cannons to target the unarmed Christians, who were simply attending a Bible study. Since then, seven of them have been tried in court and sentenced to imprisonment, a ruling that is now being appealed.
The Trial and Sentencing of the Christians
On April 1, 2013, the seven Christian defendants received sentences ranging from three to seven and a half years in prison. Their legal representation appealed to the Pingdingshan Municipal Intermediate People’s Court on grounds that the verdict disregarded facts and unscrupulously violated the citizens’ freedom of religious belief.
For instance, upon their arrest, the Ye county Public Security Bureau repeatedly refused to produce the legally required paperwork to the family of the detainees. It was only through private sources that their families were able to ascertain that they had been arrested on “suspicion of organizing a cult to undermine national law enforcement.”
Ryan Morgan, International Christian Concern’s Regional Manager for China, says, “It’s highly unfortunate that the Chinese government wrongfully arrested and imprisoned these 7 Christians in the first place. Despite claiming to protect the right of its citizens to practice their religious beliefs, in reality China only allows this to a very limited extent in officially sanctioned places of worship. Those who wish to believe and practice their faith in their own building or home, and with a minister of their own choice, face regular harassment, arrest, and imprisonment. Legally Chinese Christians are not even allowed to take their children to worship services.”
The Appeal for Reversing the Verdict
On Aug. 29, thirteen lawyers were present to defend the seven Christians on the first day of their hearing for an appeal against the sentencing. But it was a day marked by judicial error, gross incompetence and the lack of commitment to justice that has typified this case, from the time of their arrest to their trial and sentencing.
In spite of being a public trial, only 14 out of 60 seats were given to family members of the accused, as if to deliberately stamp out the presence of supporters and perpetuate the gross injustice against the Christians.
After a whole day of legal banter, centering on the credibility of the chief judge, the court was adjourned and the appeal was further delayed. The lawyers for the Christians were compelled to make the case that the chief judge ought to recuse himself for a careless oversight in the legal proceedings, prior to the commencement of the appeal. They also argued for the members of the jury to publicly state their faith, to ensure that at least one theist was present to subvert the bias that an all-atheist jury would likely bring to the verdict, an issue that remained unresolved.
What Lies Ahead for the Christians
The way things are going, it appears that a long-drawn out legal battle is at hand, during which the Christians will remain in prison, while justice tarries. The lawyers are determined and hopeful that the court will listen to the facts and correct the wrongful sentencing of the seven Christians. They are hoping that a new verdict will reflect the values of the Chinese Constitution and safeguard the rights of citizens to freedom of religious belief. But much of the future lies in the hands of the judicial process, which has shown no sign of objectivity or concern for justice.
Given China’s notorious distaste for Christianity, it is not unreasonable to assume that the trial is only furthering the state’s purposes of intimidating Christians, by sending them a public and threatening message of the legal consequences that come with following Jesus. But the Chinese court needs to see that using its own citizens as scapegoats for a campaign of religious intimidation will only be counter productive to its reputation in the global community.
As Ryan Morgan says, “The Communist Party of China needs to realize that religious freedom is a foundational element of a strong and vibrant society. The speedy release of these Christian house church members will demonstrate that conditions genuinely are improving for religious adherents.”
A lengthy legal battle threatens, not only the freedom of the seven Christians, but the livelihood of their families and the very future of religious freedom in the country. China needs to act swiftly to bring a speedy resolution to this trial, releasing the innocent Christians, thereby demonstrating its stated commitment to religious freedom, before it only serves to further an unsavory reputation for itself as an active persecutor of Christians.