A letter from members of an underground Chinese Christian church, dated December 31, 2001, and smuggled to the New York-based Committee for Investigation on Persecution of Religion in China, reveals graphic details and new information about the Chinese government's crackdown on Pastor Gong Shengliang and his South China Church in central Hubei province.
Pastor Gong was sentenced to death on December 5 on charges of operating an "evil cult" and on the seemingly trumped-up charges of rape and assault. The month-long period for deciding his appeal was extended January 5 by a Hubei court following sharp international protest.
The letter, written by two underground Christian women, Li Ailian and Wang Yue, reports that in efforts to find and apprehend Pastor Gong and suppress the South China Church, police arrested and severely beat at least 25 Christians, and tortured others with electric prods. Two victims, described below, reportedly died.
- Yu Zhongju, a young mother from Zhongxiang was arrested May 27, 2001 in a private house connected with Pastor Gong's congregation. She died in police custody in late July, allegedly as a result of torture. According to her family, police informed them of Yu's death July 20, after her body had begun to decompose. The police paid the family, warning them not to raise the matter further. There has been no official investigation of the case.
- Gu Xuegui, a Christian man also connected with Pastor Gong's church, disappeared while in police custody, probably sometime in October. A congregant from Puyang City, Henan province last saw Gu in a prison vehicle with his face showing signs of beatings. His family later received information that he had died under severe torture.
The letter also provides details about two women, Li Tongjin and Chi Tongyuan, from Shayang, who were arrested and tortured by police with electric prods, resulting in blisters and burns all over their bodies. The torture was reported to have been used to force them to testify that they had sexual relations with Pastor Gong. One woman was later able to telephone her brother and report her situation, saying, "be ready to come to pick up my body. I might either be beaten to death or sentenced to death."
The letter reports numerous other cases from May through December 2001 of brutal police beatings of the congregants. It states that Pastor Gong himself was apprehended by police on August 8 and was kicked and beaten by government security forces.
In a separate communiqué from the underground South China Church, Freedom House obtained the names of 63 men and women of the Church who were arrested between May and December 2001 in Hubei, Henan, Hebei, and Sichuan provinces.
The South China Church is known within the Chinese underground Christian community and to churches in the United States. Li Guangqiang, a Hong Kong resident was also recently issued an "evil cult" indictment, possibly carrying the death penalty, by a Fujian court, for smuggling 33,000 bibles into China.
The names of the detainees from the South China Church congregation and the December 31, 2001 letter described above, are available on the Center for Religious Freedom website at: www.freedomhouse.org/religion.