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5/8/2024 China (International Christian Concern) — Since two leaders of Ganquan Church in Hefei, Anhui, were arrested last fall, their wives and members of their church family have pleaded for their release. Those pleas have grown more urgent after the two leaders developed serious health problems while in prison. 

In November 2023, Communist authorities detained Pastor Zhou Songlin, Elder Ding Zhongfu, and 14 other members of the house church. Pastor Zhou and Elder Ding, both charged with fraud, are the only church members who remain in prison.

“We have heard several similar frontline reports from around China of underground church pastors being charged with fraud-related crimes to destabilize their churches and attack their reputations,” International Christian Concern’s (ICC) regional director for Southeast Asia said. “In this extremely difficult context with increased surveillance and a growing crackdown on unregistered churches in China, ministries like ICC must continue to find creative ways to support our suffering brethren in prison and in unregistered, underground fellowships.”

Pastor Zhou is suffering from an unspecified “serious illness” that his doctors say cannot be properly treated while he is incarcerated. The pastor has stated that he is afraid he will die in prison. Elder Ding is experiencing high blood pressure, chest pain, dizziness, and insomnia.

“ICC strongly urges Chinese officials to immediately release these prisoners, given their serious health challenges, and to drop the charges against all of these church members,” ICC’s regional director added. 

Ganquan Church is an underground church that refuses to come under the state-controlled Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), China’s only legal church. As a result, Ganquan is considered illegal and cannot purchase property. To secure property for worship and other church activities, Pastor Zhou and Elder Ding used church funds to purchase two properties in their own names. Their wives and other church members have argued that strict financial controls were in place and the purchases were not fraudulent.

In a desperate plea to officials to release their husbands, Zhou and Ding’s wives released the following statement, published by Bitter Winter on May 1: 

“For more than twenty years, Ganquan Church has been based on the Christian faith, strictly following the teachings of the Bible, honoring God and benefiting people, and self-regulating its congregation, in accordance with the Christian Church’s thousands (of) years of tradition, drawing on its own resources, and maintaining the normal operation of the church. The church has a strict financial management system, and the management and use of all funds are supervised by many people with Elder Ding reporting to the congregation as treasurer. The purchase of the real estate was decided at a meeting of all co-workers, and several trustees were elected to manage them. It also went through the legal process to create notarized and archived documents proving that the properties, in fact, belong to the church.” 

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