Beijing Church Leader Put on Trial; Relatives and US Embassy Official Blocked

July 7, 2005 Updated: July 7, 2005

ChinaAid (CAA) learned that Pastor Cai Zhuohua, the leader of six Beijing-area house churches, was put on trial Thursday morning in a Beijing courtroom for alleged “illegal business practices.”

The trial lasted about four-and-a-half hours and the verdict was not announced.

Cai was on trial along with his wife, Xiao Yunfei; her brother, Xiao Gaowen; and his wife, Hu Jinyun.

Nine lawyers had volunteered to represent the accused Christians, but the judge allowed only five of them into the courtroom.

Pastor Cai's mother was also not allowed to be in the room for the trial. The family had been told that they would be allowed 10 seats for family members in the room. When they arrived at the court, though, they were told they would have only five seats. But then guards allowed only three family members inside, and Cai's mother was prohibited from entering. Two members of the church were allowed to enter, as was Xiao Yunfei's father. Even though there weren't enough seats for family members, the judge invited more than 20 law school students as his guests to observe the trial. Eyewitnesses report that about 30 of pastor Cai's church members boldly stood outside the court building showing solidarity with pastor Cai.

The U.S. Embassy sent an observer to be present at the trial, which had been announced for hearing room #3 at the People's Court of Haidian District in Beijing City. However, when he arrived at that room, the embassy staffer was told that the hearing had been moved to hearing room #6, then forced to leave the premises.

Once the hearing began, Pastor Cai revoked his written testimony, which was composed from the interrogation records of the police. He said he was not aware what the interrogator had written down on the interrogation record, and that he was forced to sign the record of the interview under torture. He denied that he had anything to do with the record.

All three of the other accused Christians also revoked their testimony, saying they had been forced under threat of torture to sign.

The lawyers tried to present evidence that the case had to do with Cai's unregistered church activities, but the judge would not allow any arguments about religious issues. “This has nothing to do with religion. This is an economic crime,” presiding judge You Tao said from the bench.

Police witnesses read their prosecution/accusation papers, as well as records from the interrogation. Only one witness for the defense was allowed to testify: an old Christian lady that said she had received Christian literature from Pastor Cai without being asked to pay anything.

This witness led into the defense's core argument: that because the Christian literature was being given away, it was not a for-profit activity and therefore could not have been an “illegal business practice.”

Cai was arrested last September 11 at a bus stop, where he was dragged into a van by state security officers. The prosecution of his case was reportedly arranged directly by the Department of State Security. Authorities had been shocked to find more than 200,000 pieces of printed Christian literature in a storage room managed by Cai. In China, only one printer is legally able to print limited numbers of Bibles in China, and those Bibles can only be sold through registered churches.

The verdict in the case will be announced later. CAA sources say it could be a week, or it could be a year. It is believed that the Chinese government will try to find a time when political fall out from the decision will be less. One of Cai's lawyers Mr. Gao Zhisheng, chief attorney at Beijing Shenzhi Law Firm told Agency France Presse that, “It is impossible for them to be found innocent, but I have confidence to strive for lighter sentences.”

“Clearly the charges against pastor Cai are false,” said Bob Fu, President of CAA and a former co-worker of pastor Cai, “We urge people of conscience around the world to pray and protest on behalf of these faithful Christians.”