01/16/2009, 00.00
CHINA

Beijing does not recognize domestic churches, and persecutes them

Last Christmas, there were demolitions of buildings and arrests of the faithful of domestic Christian churches. But the authorities are trying to pass everything off in silence.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - There's no letup to the repression against the Chinese "domestic churches," Christian groups not recognized by the authorities that meet in residences to pray. The government is telling them to ask for "recognition," but the faithful claim that they are being used as a pretext not to admit even their existence, and to continue arrests and the demolition of buildings.

Attorney Wu Chenglian of Zhoukou (Henan) has been hired to appeal against the sentences for Shu Wenxiang, Xie Zhenji, and Tang Houyong. They are leaders of unrecognized "domestic churches" arrested in December in the county of Taikang while they were conducting "proselytism," sentenced to a year of "reeducation through labor," genuine forced labor, with three months to make an appeal.

Wu explains that he has not yet succeeded in doing so, because the authorities are not accepting his case, saying that "they are acting on internal documents ordering them not to accept cases involving religious groups," and specific authorizations are required. But the offices are trying to shrug off the responsibility of releasing them. Wu tells Radio Free Asia, "we went to the head of the court, and he said we could ask the director. When we asked the director, he told us we should ask the head of the court."

The authorities actively persecute these groups, but they are careful not to do this in an official way. In Yucheng (Henan), 4 women have been arrested and sentenced to 15 days in jail for "organizing illegal religious activities" (they gathered the faithful to pray). They were released after serving the sentence, but Zhang Mingxuan, president of the association of Chinese domestic churches, says that "they have been given no official documentation regarding their detention, because they are afraid that our members will sue them."

The Fuyin Drug Rehabilitation Center in Yunnan, run by Protestant groups, was forcibly demolished at the end of December, with bulldozers and excavators. But Pastor Lin says that he was not given any official documents. Now "the people who were receiving treatment at the center now have nowhere to go, and they are living on the demolition site in tents."

Nor is there any letup in the persecution of those already in prison. The group ChinaAid says that the Christian Hua Zaichen, 91, is dying and is asking to see his wife Shuang Shuying, 79 (in the photo), who is in prison for a sentence that ends on February 9. The two have been persecuted for years for their Christian work on behalf of other persecuted people, and as the parents of the Protestant pastor Hua Huiqi, who is also in prison.

ChinaAid says that the authorities have responded to the wife that this is not possible, but that if he dies she "would be allowed to see his body for 10 minutes and would have to be chained, handcuffed and shackled and wearing her prisoner uniform." In February of 2007, while she was going to the police to ask for news about her son, she was almost run over by a car. She held her cane out in front of her and the car struck it. She was sentenced to 2 years in prison for this.

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