Police in China's Hunan Charge Christian Pastor With 'Subversion'


2020-04-27
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house-church.jpg File photo of an unofficial Protestant "house church" in China, congregations that don't follow the Communist Party-controlled official churches and often face harassment and arrest from authorities.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener.

Authorities in the central Chinese province of Hunan have formally arrested a Protestant house church pastor on subversion charges after detaining him in March.

Zhao Huaiguo, pastor of Bethel Church in Cili county near Hunan's Zhangjiajie city, was formally arrested for "incitement to subvert state power" on April 2.

Zhao's wife Zhang Xinghong said police had raided the family home at around 7.00 a.m. on March 14.

"The state security police came after seven in the morning ... and took Pastor Zhao away," Zhang said. "Then they held him under criminal detention on suspicion of incitement to subvert state power."

"I think the reason was that he had posted or forwarded something from overseas to do with the coronavirus epidemic," she said. "They said something about circumvention tools for getting over the Great Firewall."

"It was something to do with the epidemic in Wuhan, with possibly something political in there as well," Zhang said.

However, it is likely that Zhao's refusal to apply for Bethel Church to join the ruling Chinese Communist Party's official Three-Self Patriotic Association for Protestant churches could be a hidden factor in his detention.

Zhang said the state security police had returned to the apartment on April 15.

"They had a search warrant with them, and they said that hundreds of copies of church materials ... study materials and photocopies were illegal," she said.

"They took away the ones that didn't have an ISBN number."

Zhang said she had been warned not to hire a lawyer from out of town to defend Zhao.

"When there were here last week, the state security police team leader said I should hire a lawyer in Zhangjiajie, because the case was being fast-tracked; and that they wouldn't be dragging their feet on this case," she said.

"It was all a bunch of officialese, telling me it was for Zhao Huaiguo's good, or whatever," she said. "I kept thinking, you've detained him and now you're telling me you have his best interests at heart?"

"I told them this was unacceptable, and he said I could get a lawyer from anywhere, but that a local lawyer would be better for [Zhao]," Zhang said.

Zhao set up Bethel Church in 2007 after arriving in Hunan from northeastern China.

His current location is unknown.

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.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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