A news crew and several lawyers seeking access to a detained pastor in central China’s Henan Province were set upon by a hired mob and escaped by locking themselves in an office.
A crew from the U.K.-based Sky News came to Henan’s Nanle on Dec. 13 to investigate the detention of Pastor Zhang Shaojie of the Nanle County Church and 20 church members on Nov. 16. According to the human rights organization China Aid, several of these are still being detained without access to lawyers.
While the Sky News crew was meeting with a delegation of human rights attorneys who are working on the case, they were suddenly surrounded by an abusive crowd.
“In a split second, our civilized chat with the lawyers turns into a melee of chaos. The coach-load of women backed by some men attack the lawyers, the Christians, and us,” Sky News correspondent Mark Stone said.
“One of the lawyers is beaten and kicked in front of us. Our camera is then pulled from the Sky News cameraman’s shoulder and damaged,” he continued.
The lawyers and news crew retreated to a room in the prosecutor’s office, and barricaded themselves inside with furniture. Another lawyer, still outside, was hit with a brick.
When asked about the crowd, Xia Jun, lead attorney for the detained Christians, told Stone, “They are paid and backed by the local government. They come and go as required. All this is organized behind the scenes by the government.”
He told Stone that the same group had attacked him the day before.
Following a call to the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing, and a wait of several hours, the authorities arrived and escorted the news crew safely out of the building and then out of town.
The lawyers have been unsuccessful in gaining access to the pastor or others who were detained.
“I’ve been in Nanle for more than 20 days. … We went to the detention center to see him five times, but all been denied,” Xia told correspondent Stone.
Religion and Land
“This case is for pure religious causes,” head attorney Xia explained.
The authorities arrested the pastor, church staff, and core leaders, Xia explained. “When they are arrested, all the activities like worshiping and services, can’t take place as normal.”
Shortly after the pastor and church members were arrested, Nanle County authorities closed the church building, saying that it was unsafe and could collapse, members reported to China Aid.
Left without a building, the members met on Dec. 1 in a forested area, which had been approved by authorities. In the middle of their service, county authorities sent “several dozen vehicles, hauling about a hundred people,” who physically abused the Christians, and chased them out of the area, according to China Aid.
The church members moved to another outdoor location, but were again driven away and told to go back to the church. When they did return to the church, the local authorities again sent about 100 people to disrupt the service, church members told China Aid.
One attorney told Sky News correspondent Stone, “Christianity in the Chinese system does not have any real standing.”
The lawyers told Stone that they believe the church’s land was seized so that local authorities can use it for lucrative development, and church members were in agreement.
“The key problem is the power of officials in our country. They behave like uncaged monsters … out to harm us all. For them, the law doesn’t exist,” attorney Xia said.