China Moves Ahead With Trial of Guizhou Church Members

2016-02-23
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Cross is shown on a church in Zhejiang province, July 27, 2015.
Photo courtesy of a church member.

Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Guizhou have moved ahead with the prosecution of a key figure in a Protestant church, her lawyer said on Tuesday.

Zhang Xiuhong, deacon at the Guiyang Huoshi Church, was detained by local police on July 28 alongside her husband Chen Zukai, who was later released.

Zhang, who was responsible for the church's financial affairs, now faces charges of "running an illegal business," according to one of her defense team, Li Guisheng.

"The case is going to court," Li told RFA. "The indictment is likely to be released by the end of the month; the prosecutor's office hasn't released it yet."

Chen said he is anxiously awaiting news of his wife's case.

"We haven't got the indictment yet, and that probably won't happen until the end of February or the beginning of March," he said.

Lawyers had met with Zhang earlier this month, he said.

"She seems to be doing OK, psychologically," Chen said.

'Leaking state secrets'

Meanwhile, the authorities are still holding Huoshi pastor Li Zhiguo, also known as Yang Hua, his wife Wang Hongwu told RFA.

Li has been formally arrested, and faces charges of "deliberately leaking state secrets."

Wang said she expects her husband's case to be tried in the next couple of weeks.

"I know it'll be at the end of February or the beginning of March," she said. "If there is a trial, I hope to be able to attend, but we don't know if we'll be allowed yet."

Li's lawyer Chen Jiangang has been denied permission to meet with his client in the police-run detention center, Wang added.

"I have been trying to get in touch with the police officer who arrested [my husband] and have called him a number of times, and he has never replied, even though he promised to get back to me," Wang said.

"Then I called again, and he told me that they are in the process of moving the case to trial, and that he has already been formally arrested," she said.

"Now I am trying to get a meeting with him, but they haven't replied to my calls yet."

Stepped-up campaign

The ruling Chinese Communist Party is extending a campaign stepping up controls over the country's estimated 46 million Christians, demolishing visible crosses from church buildings, and harassing unofficial "house" churches not regulated by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in its Three-Self Protestant Association.

Earlier this month, the party issued new guidelines banning its members from following any religion, even after they retire from official life, amid an ideological campaign by President Xi Jinping targeting any activity seen as "importing" values and cultural practices from overseas.

Xi has cited religion in particular as a means by which "hostile foreign forces" seek to exert a subversive influence in China.

The move comes on the heels of a months-long campaign by religious affairs officials in Zhejiang province to tear down publicly visible crosses from churches in the region, which is known as "China's Jerusalem" for its high concentration of Protestant believers.

The most recent demolition was of a cross atop the Dongtian Church in Zhejiang's Rui'an city, church members told RFA.

"We put it back up [after they left]; it's back up there now," the church member, who asked to remain anonymous, said.

"As soon as they get here, they take it down, and as soon as they've gone, we put it up again," the church member. "But I can't say too much."

Churches closed

According to U.S.-based Christian rights group ChinaAid, some 90 percent of crosses have now been torn down from church buildings in Zhejiang, while "several dozen" churches have been completely demolished.

The authorities stepped up their targeting of religious believers in Zhejiang, Guangdong, Guizhou, Guangxi, Sichuan, Xinjiang, and Tibet during 2015, the group said in an annual report this month.

"Large numbers of house churches have been shut down, large numbers of pastors, church workers, and believers have been detained, while church property has been confiscated," the report said.

"The government is also extending its campaign for sinification of Christianity nationwide," it said. "The aim is to harmonize Christianity with socialism, whether it be in the fabric of church buildings or in the missionary work they carry out."

Beijing issued new guidelines earlier this month banning its members from following any religion, even after they retire from official life.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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