SHANGDONG PROVINCE, CHINA -- Twenty-one prominent Christian leaders have been sentenced to re-education through labor in what China Aid Association (CAA) describes as the largest mass sentencing of house church leaders in China in 25 years.
CAA says the Linyi City Re-education through Labor Commission in Shandong Province simultaneously sentenced 17 male and 4 female church leaders to re-education through labor for fifteen months to three years.
According to news released yesterday by CAA, the 21 believers were detained during a mass arrest of 270 Christian leaders on December 7, 2007 in Hedeng District, Linyi City as they gathered for leadership training. The others detained with them were fined and released in the intervening period. The leaders were accused of holding an “illegal religious gathering” and the 21 labeled as members of an “evil cult,” a term which Chinese authorities arbitrarily apply to unregistered religious groups.
The news of the mass sentencing comes just a day after CAA published an open letter to the international community from the President of the Chinese House Church Alliance, Pastor Zhang Mingxuan.
In the letter, Pastor Zhang describes the persecution he has faced as a Christian leader, including being incarcerated on twelve occasions. He also describes how the Public Security Bureau have harassed an orphanage he ran with his two sons and forced it to close.
CAA says Pastor Zhang expresses support for the Beijing Olympics, but hopes that the attention on China around the Games will encourage the Chinese Government to allow real freedom of religion and to release Christians imprisoned as a result of their faith.
The mass sentencing and Pastor Zhang’s letter follow a significant increase in persecution against the house churches in China last year and a level of expulsion of foreign Christians not seen since the 1950s, according to CAA’s annual report.
CAA also reports that four Christians were detained for five days at the end of January for handing out Christian tracts in Zhejiang province. Additionally, two female House Church Alliance leaders were taken into custody on Monday, February 18, on their way to Beijing. Their whereabouts is currently unknown. CAA believes this activity is designed to dismantle the House Church Alliance before the Olympic Games start.
According to an eyewitness 40-50 policemen from 12 different towns were involved in the mass detention in December. The pastors were handcuffed in pairs and taken to the police station for questioning.
In 1983, thousands of house church leaders were sent to labor camps when the Chinese authorities launched the first “strike hard” campaign.
A copy of Pastor Zhang’s letter can be found on the CAA website at http://chinaaid.org/2008/02/18/we-want-the-olympics-but-we-want-love-and-justice-more/
Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s Chief Executive, Mervyn Thomas, says: “It is shocking that China would commit such a grave and large scale violation of religious freedom as the eyes of the world are focused on the nation. At a time when Beijing is hosting a sporting event, which is based on ‘universal fundamental ethical principles,’ the crackdown on China’s peaceful Christian house churches must not go unnoticed. We join Pastor Zhang in his desire for China to release the many Christians detained as a result of their faith and we urge the international community to respond to the serious breaches of international standards committed against religious believers in China.”
CSW is a human rights organization which specializes in religious freedom, works on behalf of those persecuted for their Christian beliefs and promotes religious liberty for all.
For more information, please contact Penny Hollings, Campaigns and Media Manager at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045, email email@example.com or visit www.csw.org.uk.