China Tries Christian Church Members on Spying, Illegal Business Charges

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china-churches-07272015.jpg Cross is shown on a church in Zhejiang province, July 27, 2015.
Photo courtesy of a church member.

Authorities in southern China have tried two members of an unofficial Protestant "house church" on spying charges, while a third has been tried for "illegal business activities," lawyers and church members said on Wednesday.

Wang Yao and Yu Lei stood trial on Monday and Wednesday at the Guiyang Intermediate People's Court in the southwestern province of Guizhou on charges of "deliberately revealing state secrets,"  following an ongoing crackdown on their Huoshi Church by police and religious affairs officials.

"Wang Yao's trial was on Monday and Yu Lei's was on Wednesday," a fellow Huoshi church member who asked to remain anonymous told RFA.

"Wang Yao's family weren't allowed to attend the trial, and neither were two lawyers hired by her family to defend her," said the church member, who is under close surveillance by police and local officials.

"There have been people watching me in the past few days from my neighborhood committee and the local police station," the church member said.

"They follow me wherever I go. The police have placed very tight controls on all Huoshi Church members."

'Illegal business'

In Guangzhou, Li Hongmin stood trial on Monday for "running an illegal business" after being accused of printing more than 11,000 copies of 125 different Protestant tracts for distribution.

Li pleaded not guilty, and Beijing-based rights lawyers Li Boguang and Liu Peifu argued that Li was merely exercising a constitutional right to freedom of religion.

Li's trial was attended by around 20 close relatives, including his wife and parents, Guangfu Church pastor Ma Ke told RFA on Wednesday, adding that he was denied entry to the courtroom.

"I asked them why they wouldn't let me in, because I'd applied to add my name to the list a long time ago, and they said they didn't know, but they had to go by the list of names they had, and mine wasn't on it," Ma said.

"I just waited outside the court instead ... The lawyers told me that the material Li Hongmin had printed was all for internal circulation within the church," he said.

Torture, ill-treatment

Meanwhile, lawyers for Huoshi's pastor Yang Hua said he is suffering from a number of "serious health problems" following torture and ill-treatment during his detention.

Yang "has been suffering from serious health conditions and is suffering from liver pain along with various other serious diseases," lawyers Chen Jiangang and Zhao Yonglin told the U.S.-based Christian rights group ChinaAid.

"Prosecutors visited him twice, applied pressure to his feet, and repeatedly threatened to kill him and harm his family members if he failed to confess his supposed crimes," the group quoted the lawyers as saying.

Yang's lawyers said they plan to sue the prosecution team for "using torture to extract a confession."

ChinaAid said fellow Huoshi pastor Su Tianfu is also facing charges of "revealing state secrets," linked to reports on the persecution of Protestant house churches in China that were forwarded to foreign media organizations.

Controls on religion

The ruling Chinese Communist Party, which embraces atheism, exercises tight controls over any form of religious practice among its citizens.

China is home to an estimated 68 million Protestants, of whom 23 million worship in state-affiliated churches, and some nine million Catholics, 5.7 million of whom are in state-sponsored organizations.

The administration of President Xi Jinping regards Christianity as a dangerous foreign import, with officials warning last year against the "infiltration of Western hostile forces" in the form of religion.

A crackdown on Protestant churches in the eastern province of Zhejiang has widened and intensified to other regions of China during the past year, church members have told RFA.

Last month, China's cabinet, the State Council, released a draft set of draconian rules setting out measures aimed at eliminating unofficial Christian worship and "separatists" among Tibetans and Muslim Uyghurs.

They include bans on preaching or running religious events in schools and on "providing religious services online."

Individuals and groups are also prohibited from "organizing citizens to attend religious training, conferences, and activities overseas," according to a copy of the draft rules seen by RFA.

Some of the rules call on government agencies to "take precautions against separatism, terrorism, and infiltration by foreign forces."

They also impose restrictions on the acceptance of teaching posts in foreign countries, while a clause forbidding "religious activities in unapproved sites" calls on local governments to extend a nationwide crackdown on house churches not affiliated with the Three-Self Patriotic Association of government-approved churches.

Shrinking space

Beijing-based Xu Yonghai, who heads the Beijing Sheng'ai Protestant Family Church Fellowship, said the new rules represent a worsening of the environment for religious worship in China.

"The space for those of us with religious beliefs is getting smaller and smaller," Xu told RFA on Wednesday. "They are still tolerating smaller meetings held in people's homes, but they won't allow us to meet in large venues."

He said the authorities usually find some excuse to keep up the pressure even then.

"They'll say we can't meet at Zhang's house; we have to go to Li's house, or that we can't meet on a Sunday, and we have to meet on a different day," Xu said.

"We're hanging in there," he said.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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