Worthy News Asia Service with Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos
BEIJING, CHINA (Worthy News) -- News that China released a Christian woman after serving over two and a half years in prison for protesting the destruction of a mega-church has been overshadowed by the ongoing detention of Christians in a similar case, Chinese Christians and rights investigators said Wednesday, June 24.
China Aid Association (CAA), an advocacy group representing the believers, said it has learned that Shen Zhuke was given an early release from prison March 4.
She was detained with seven other Christians for protesting the government’s forced demolition of Dangshanwan Christian Church building in the Xiaoshan district in Hangzhou, capital of the coastal Zhejiang province in late July 2006.
“On December 22, 2006, Shen Zuke was sentenced to three years and six months by the Xiaoshan District Court of Hangzhou Municipality, and was imprisoned in Zhejiang Provincial Women’s Prison,” CAA said.
All Christians known to have been detained in the case have now been released, however elsewhere in China new arrests have been made, according to Christian rights investigators.
Security forces reportedly closed down the Rock Church in Zhengzhou City of Henan province, detaining eight Christians on July 14, although one of them has since been released, CAA said.
"Authorities occupied all the rooms, and detained the Christians," including the pastor, CAA said. "One young woman was in the restroom when a male police officer kicked open the door…Several officials dragged Pastor Dou Shaowen to the pulpit and attempted to force him to announce that the Sunday service was finished, and to disperse the church members. Pastor Dou refused, saying, 'Sunday service must go on!'."
He and other Christians were eventually taken away and seven believers were still held Wednesday, June 24, CAA said. The building has reportedly been sealed with a notice saying that authorities found that "Dou Shaowen, Feng Lu and other individuals who call themselves missionaries, have established a site for religious activities without approval…"
It has become increasingly difficult for evangelical Christians gathering outside the state-approved churches to worship, amid reports that government infiltrators are monitoring them in several areas of China. CAA cited a recent case in Zhejiang province where government-backed individuals allegedly infiltrated Baixiang Town Christian Church "to take over the church and bring destruction to the church life of true believers."
It said one church member, Huang Lemin was badly beaten by the infiltrators on April 23 and placed under “criminal detention” at Leqing Municipal Detention Center after his attackers told police that he attacked them.
"Believers from Baixiang Church are asking the international community to speak out for his release, and to expose the true situation of the hostile takeover of their church by individuals working with government officials."
Authorities have also extended their crackdown on house churches, which have often been meeting in homes of believers, Christians say.
In one of the latest reported cases, three house church leaders of the Taochuan Village Christian Church in the north western province of Shaanxi were apparently arrested and given 10 days of detention on June 14, for engaging in "illegal religious activities."
There whereabouts were now immediately known Wednesday, June 24. Their detention was the latest in a series of actions to shut down their house church, and confiscate the church building, Christians said. Authorities allegedly targeted the church in part because of its involvement in defending the legal rights of peasants in the village.
CAA said it was also concerned over the situation of Christians who have been held for longer periods in prison camps and other detention facilities and the impact on their families.
As an example, it mentioned Shu Wenxiang, Tang Houyong and Xie Zhenqi, three Christians held in eastern Henan province. They, “have been suffering greatly along with their families since their arrests more than six months ago,” because of their Christian activities in the city of Zhoukou, the advocacy group said.
The three Christian men were reportedly first arrested in December 2008, when they gathered in a home with more than 50 house church Christians who are part of the China Gospel Fellowship house church network.
While other believers were meanwhile released, the three Christians were sentenced to one-year re-education through labor for "illegal proselytizing" and for organizing an "illegal gathering" in Xuchang city, rights investigators said.
"The prisoners call the labor camp "hell on earth." They must rise at 6 a.m. for running, then have breakfast at 7 a.m. They work making wigs for export from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. with only two 30 minute breaks for lunch and dinner. If the prisoners do not meet their quota, their work day is extended,” CAA said, adding that their families struggle to survive at home.
China’s government has denied human rights abuses. However Christians say, officials have become increasingly concerned about the spread of Christianity. There may be as many as 130 million Christians, according to some estimates, in the Communist-run nation.