*Representative photo used to protect identity.
On Nov 16 and 17 authorities arrested twenty-three members, including five church leaders, of the Nanle County Church in Puyang, Henan province. A church spoksperson claims the majority of those detained, including the church’s leader, Fan Ruiling, “have not received a criminal charge, nor any written notice, nor have their families been told where they are detained.”
Four other church leaders-Zhang Shaojie, Zhao Guoli, Wu Guishan and Zhang Cuixia-were also arrested. The church reports that their whereabouts are “unknown, and no one knows whether they are alive or dead.” In response, Nanle County Church church memebers, which is part of the “official” state-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), have written a letter to the Chinese government, requesting permission to stage a protest against the detention of the members of its congregation.
Though communist authorities have often clashed with members of unofficial “house” churches, with demolitions of houses of worship and beatings of parishioners not unusual, it is rare for authorities to crack down on a state-sanctioned church, such as Nanle County Church. However, church members do not believe that it was a coincidence that the arrests took place after a group from the congregation visited Beijing to protest about incidents related to church property.
The church complains that since the arrests, government officials have stalked the church premises and harassed its members. It also claims that the arrested church members have been denied access to their lawyers. Nanle County Church says those arrested on “fabricated criminal charges” have been tortured, and that their arrests amount to “religious persecution.”
In preventing lawyers from visiting the accused, the church claims that local law enforcement agencies have “disregarded” and “violated the law,” and have not “followed due legal procedure.”
In the request letter, a copy of which was seen by China Aid, the church says that hundreds of government officials have “intruded” on church premises without permission, and “severely disrupted” church services by “taking photographs and videotaping meetings.”
“Many believers were threatened and received warnings from government agencies who forbade them from leaving their homes to attend worship service. They have severely interfered with the religious freedom of the believers of our church,” the church writes.
Nanle County Church says the local government has failed to adhere to Article 35 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, which states, “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession, and of demonstration.”
The church adds that it expects the required permit for it to hold public protests about the detentions to be granted “as soon as posible.”
Although freedom of religious belief is guaranteed by Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution, it is limited to state-sanctioned religious bodies, such as the TSPM. Those who practice their faith outside these parameters can be accused of participating in illegal activities.
China Aid condemned the arrests, saying, “This case against even the officially approved churches again shows the current Chinese regime has no intention to relent its increasing persecution of citizens for religious freedom. The mere proclamation of a blueprint for economic reform cannot make the ‘Chinese dream’ fully realized unless the Chinese government respects its citizens’ fundamental rights and freedom of religion and conscience. We call upon the Chinese top leaders to intervene immediately and release these leaders and hold abusive officials accountable.”
Father, we stand in constant amazement at Your church in China. As beautiful flowers grow in grantite cliffs, so Your church in China has grown as a beautiful testimony to Your power and presence in the midst of the cold, hard rock of communism. We pray for Your church now as she faces this new challenge, the persecution of even a state-sanctioned church. Grant peace and hope among those who have been arrested. Give them opportunity to speak of the gospel of Christ to guards and fellow prisoners, as You so often do among Chinese Christians in prison. In Your mercy, bring about justice that the prisoners might be released. And in the power and authority of Christ over even this communist regime that would thwart the growth of Your church, cause Your church to grow and flourish so that China might one day stand as a nation to praise the name of Christ. In the name of Jesus who lives in and through us, Amen.
Source: World Watch Monitor