China Continues Repression of Popular Christian House Churches
Freedom House Calls on U.S. Trade Representatives to Protest Violations of Religious Rights by Chinese Authorities
May 26, 2004
by Center for Religious Freedom
U.S. diplomats currently in China for trade talks, and those in Chile attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings, should call on the government of China to immediately cease its assaults against China's large Christian house church movement, Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom said today.
Last week, the Center reported on the Chinese government’s attacks on one large church and its members. The Center has since received new information from the Pennsylvania-based China Aid Organization (www.chinaaid.org) regarding the ongoing repression, as well as a new assault against yet another house-church.
“The Chinese government, whose propaganda machine works overtime to display a moderate image to the world, continues to suppress the religious liberties of millions of religious believers, using extreme measures with impunity,” said Center director Nina Shea. “The U.S. government should show the priority it places on religious freedom and human rights by raising this new evidence of Chinese government persecution during the current trade and economic talks between our two governments,” she said. “With U.S. trade representatives in China, U.S. diplomats in Chile at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation talks, and U.S. representatives in Shanghai for World Bank meetings, there are ample opportunities for the U.S. to send a strong message.”
On May 9, a well-known house church leader, Zhao Wenquan, was arrested in Hegou Town, Meng Cheng County, Anhui Province in east-central China. That day more than 4,000 Christians had gathered in the village for a special harvest celebration sponsored by a six-year-old local house church. According to China Aid, the Domestic Security Protection Division Team of the Meng Cheng County Public Security Bureau (PBS), raided the gathering, and, along with Zhao, also arrested the church watchman, a 60-year-old disabled man who was later released. Approximately 12 other church leaders escaped and are still on the run.
The detained church leader, Zhao Wenquan, remains in police custody, charged with "disturbing the social order" and organizing an "illegal religious gathering." He is believed to be incarcerated at the Meng Cheng County PSB Detention Center. He faces as much as three years of so-called "re-education through labor."
In a separate incident, already reported by the Center, 28-year-old church member Gu Xianggao was beaten to death on April 27 while in the custody of Chinese PSB officials. Gu was a teacher in the large house church known as "Three Class (or Grades) Servants" in Heilongjian Province, northeast China. The leader of the group, Xu Shuangfu (also known as Xu Shengguang--"holy light"), is a well-known house church leader since the 1980s. Arrested repeatedly, he has reportedly spent more than two decades in prison. His church maintains secrecy for security reasons, but is believed to have hundreds of thousands of members. The PSB in Harbin City, Heilongjiang province, conducted several major raids on the Three Class Servants group in April and, on April 26, both Gu Xianggao and Xu Shuangfu were among those arrested.
On May 24, China Aid received a letter from Gu’s sister, Gu Xiangyan, who had accompanied her parents to identify her brother’s body. She said police officials told the family that Gu Xianggao had been charged with murder and had died of natural causes while being interrogated. When the parents asked to see the body, they were permitted only a brief glimpse of his face, which was black and blue. The body was then cremated and Chinese authorities provided no further information.