On Tuesday, China Aid Association (CAA) released its first annual persecution report of 2006. CAA president Bob Fu was invited to testify before a hearing by US Commission on International Religious Freedom (www.USCIRF.gov) on the current religious freedom condition in China.
According to the report, from January 2006 to December 2006, the Chinese government continued its general crackdown on unregistered house churches, but the strategies used have changed to some degree with the shifting domestic and international situation.
Reported incidents of raids on house churches have decreased in 2006 as compared to previous years. According to CAA sources alone, the government detained over 600 Christians in 2006. This figure is less than 2005 when more than 2000 arrests were reported. This reflects the Public Security Officials new tactic of interrogating church members during a raid rather than officially arresting them. Most of the reported detentions in 2006 were church leaders.
By comparison, the local officials closed and demolished more house churches in 2006 than 2005. Three house churches were demolished in Zhejiang province in 2006, including the large ongoing building of a house church in Xiaoshan.
A new tendency was to target house church leaders with criminal accusations. Pastor Cai Zhuohua, a house church pastor in Beijing, was convicted in November 2005 of “illegal operation of a business” for printing and giving away Bibles without government authorization. Two other house church pastors, Liu Yuhua and Wang Zaiqing, were also reportedly detained and sentenced under the same accusation in 2006. Mr. Zhang Rongliang, a leader of the China for Christ house church network in Henan province, was sentenced to prison for seven years and six months under the charge of “illegally crossing the national border and fraudulently obtaining a passport” in June 2006.
The Chinese government continues to maintain strict control over the state-controlled Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), which leads the registered Protestant church in China. For example, the local Religion Administrate Bureau evicted Pastor Hu Qinghua, a pastor of a TSPM church in Pinglu, Shanxi, in June 2006.
The Chinese government also continues to restrict relationships of unregistered Chinese Protestants with fellow believers abroad, in contravention of international human rights standards. Meetings between house church leaders and overseas Protestants visiting China to conduct theological or organizational trainings were raided in Beijing, Henan province, Yunnan province, and Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
The province-by-province report shows that Zhejiang and Henan provinces, where the Protestant House Church movement is particularly strong, had the worst persecution against House churches in the past 12 months. 246 pastors and believers were arrested in 9 raids from January 2006 to December 2006, 3 churches were destroyed, 10 were sentenced to imprisonment, and many of the arrested were abused while detained. After the raid on March 13, 2006 in Wen County, two arrested Christian ladies, ages 72 and 21 respectively, were forced to strip off their cloths during the interrogation. A disabled Pastor Li Gongshe was severely beaten, breaking one of his ribs.
“Given the population the geographical size of China as well as the desire of Public Security officials to keep such arrests hidden from the outside world, it would be impossible to measure the exact number that have occurred,” said Bob Fu. “Zhejiang and Henan province should be put on notice having the worst religious persecution record. It is morally imperative for any conscientious foreign investors in Henan and Zhejiang to address this serious issue.”