CHURCH IN CHAINS 9th September, 2011
Christians from various house churches are suffering for their support of Shouwang Church, the large Beijing house church that has been forced to meet outdoors since government pressure led to its eviction.
On Sunday 28 August five members of a house church in Fangshan, Hebei province, travelled for two hours to worship with members of Shouwang Church at a plaza in Beijing. On their arrival, waiting police sent them back to their local police station, where they were urged to sign documents repenting of their decision to support Shouwang. All five refused, but were eventually released. During their detention, a member of a registered "Three-Self Patriotic Movement" church (the official, government-sanctioned Protestant church in China) came to persuade them against supporting Shouwang. The Fangshan Christians reported that one of them started to read Bible to him, and he left in shame.
Besides the Fangshan members, police detained at least 15 Shouwang members on 28 August, holding them for up to 48 hours. They put other members under house arrest from Saturday night until after the time of the Sunday service. The following Sunday (4 September), at least twelve Christians were arrested at the plaza, taken to various police stations and held until midnight or Monday morning. As usual, many members were detained at home from Saturday. Senior church leaders remain under constant house arrest.
Another supporter from a different house church, Pastor Wang Shuanyan of Beijing's Xinshu ("New Tree") Church, was amongst 16 worshippers arrested at the plaza on 14 August. The previous Sunday, a police officer had threatened to lock her up for 48 hours if she persisted in coming to join Shouwang, so this time she brought a sleeping bag. Shouwang members, including the wife of senior pastor Jin Tianming, took turns waiting outside the police station for her release, during which time Pastor Wang decided to go on hunger strike. In a letter written after her release on 16 August, and smuggled out of China, Pastor Wang described how she was detained and taken to a police station.
"I believe deeply that all things considered... Shouwang's outdoor worship... is right," wrote Pastor Wang. "Was I fasting or on a hunger strike? To me it was both. To God I prayed earnestly. To the relevant authorities I was protesting against the repeatedly occurring violence." (She had seen police leading away a female Shouwang member with force on a previous Sunday.) "Formerly I went onto the platform, talked with government authorities and petitioned the People's Congress. Now with conflicts lasting and violence rising, to a weak, insignificant and detained person like me, a hunger strike became the only means by which I could express my protest."
Pastor Wang was one of 17 house church pastors who signed a petition calling for a complete overhaul of China's religious policy. The petition, titled We stand up for our faith - a petition to the National People's Congress concerning the conflict between church and state, was submitted to the National People's Congress (NPC) on 10 May. The NPC has failed to respond. Since Pastor Wang signed the petition, police have stationed themselves outside Xinshu Church every Sunday, sometimes entering and checking identity cards, and some Xinshu members have received threats from their employers.
On 31 May the police detained another signatory, Shi Enhao, pastor of Suqian house church in Jiangsu Province and deputy chairman of the Chinese House Church Alliance (CHCA). In late July he was sentenced, without trial, to two years in labour camp for "illegal meetings and illegal organising of venues for religious meetings." Pastor Shi's family hired a lawyer on his behalf, but officials refused to grant access to Pastor Shi on the grounds that state secrets were involved. The lawyer appealed to higher authorities, including the NPC and the Department of Public Security, but received no response.
Responding to the Shouwang events and Pastor Shi's sentencing, Zhang Mingxuan, president of the CHCA, wrote to Chinese President Hu Jintao. He wrote that he had taught church members to abide by the law and respect the government but in return had been deprived of many rights, including the right to a passport. He wrote that others had been similarly deprived, such as house church pastor Zhang Tieling of Fan County, Henan Province: officials sealed his house with bricks and knocked his wife to the floor, leaving her in the hospital with a brain injury. Zhang Mingxuan concluded, "In the past 26 years I have been arrested, beaten and placed under house arrest 42 times just because I speak the truth... As long as [it means] Christians can freely worship God, I don't mind dying for this cause." (China Aid, Compass Direct News)