Freedom House Calls on President Bush To Protest China's Plan To Execute Christian Leader
Human Rights Groups Reveal Secret Chinese Directive to Crackdown on South China Church
January 3, 2002
by Center for Religious Freedom
Freedom House and the Committee for Investigation of Persecution of Religion in China issued an urgent appeal today to President George W. Bush to protest China's planned execution of Pastor Gong Shengliang, founder of the Christian South China Church. His appeal of the execution is to be decided by the Supreme Court of Hubei Province, in central China, by Saturday, January 5, 2002. If an appeal is denied the execution is usually carried out within one week.
"In 1997, international protest saved the life of Peter Xu, pastor of the underground evangelical mega-church "All Ranges" or "Total Scope," who was reportedly given the death penalty for his work in the underground church," said Nina Shea, director of Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom. "It is urgent that President Bush, who has on several occasions publicly deplored religious persecution in China, speak out now against this unspeakable assault on religious freedom," she said.
Pastor Gong, 46, was reportedly sentenced to death on December 5, 2001, after the Intermediate People's Court of Jingmen, a city in Hubei Province, found him guilty of using a cult to undermine the enforcement of law and of malicious assault and rape. He and 16 other church leaders were arrested sometime after August 9, 2001, after the church was classified as an "evil cult" by government authorities and an arrest directive was issued in a "top-secret" document. In addition to Gong, 4 other leaders were sentenced to death, but their sentences were suspended, possibly indicating that they will be commuted to life terms. Gong's deputy and 37-year-old niece, Li Ying, who is responsible for evangelization and publishing, was given one of the suspended death sentences. Relatives state that Chinese authorities severely tortured her in prison. The rest were given prison sentences ranging from two years to life.
An August 9, 2001, "top secret" government document bearing the official seal of the General Squad of National Security and Defense of Beijing Bureau of Public Security, labeled the South China Church an "evil cult." The document (a translation of which is available on the Center's webpage at www.freedomhouse.org/religion) discusses the arrest of the leaders of the South Church movement, its publishing activities, its bank accounts and allegations of rape and assault by Gong. The official document orders "the security squad, surveillance squad, domestic defense squad, relics protection squad and all the local public security offices" to carry out the arrest of Gong and other top leaders of the church and the "complete demolition of [the church's] organizational system." This is the first time the top-secret document is being released publicly. It was smuggled to the West and obtained by the Committee for Investigation of Persecution of Religion in China, a New York based human rights group founded by Mr. ShiXiong Li in 2000.
"Given the source of the document, it is inconceivable that this directive did not originate at the highest levels of the Chinese government," said Ms. Shea.
"We were told that giving China WTO status, granting it Permanent Normal Trade Relations status, awarding it the 2008 Olympic Games would all have moderating effects on China. Instead what we're seeing is the most draconian measures against Christian leaders since the anti-cult law was adopted three years ago," Shea observed. "China continues to arrogate to itself the rights to determine religious doctrine, determine what is Christian heterodoxy, and designate religious leaders in direct violation of the international human rights covenant that it has signed," Shea stated.
Pastor Gong is viewed as one of China's most influential underground Christian leaders. According to the secret document, The South China Church, founded by Gong in 1991 as a break-off group from Peter Xu's All Ranges Church "quan fan wei" [also known as Total Scope Church or Born Again movement], is a large evangelical church estimated to have at least 50,000 members in eight provinces in China. It is respected as an orthodox Christian group among the underground Chinese Christians with whom Freedom House spoke.
Hubei province is an important center of Protestant Christianity in China. Pastor Gong is well known within Chinese Christian circles as a third-generation Christian from a pious family. He is married and has several children. He is currently being held in the Jingmen detention center in his native Hubei Province. Pastor Gong had been in hiding for several months after the Public Security Bureau placed him on a most wanted list for unauthorized religious activity.
Those who know Mr. Gong say he is facing trumped up charges of assault and rape. Mr. Gong was apparently set up by local Hubei police who forced women members of the congregation on August 18, 2001, to strip off their clothes and then kicked and physically abused them until they were bruised and bleeding to make it appear they had been raped. Two of the women have since repudiated the rape charges, in a letter today to the Committee for Investigation of Persecution of Religion in China (on file at Freedom House), in which they say they made the allegations after being tortured by electricity in policy custody. It has not been unusual for Chinese authorities to charge religious leaders with rape in an attempt to discredit them and reduce their stature among their followers.
"The fact that the Chinese security police issued a directive ordering Pastor Gong's arrest for religious activities shows their political determination to eliminate him." Shea commented.