Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A court in Linfen (Shanxi) sentenced five house church preachers to between three and seven years in prison. They were convicted earlier on charges that included "illegally occupying land”. For its part, police gets ready to tear down the building used as a church. In the meantime, in Tianjin seven nuns have been hospitalised with dehydration after a five-day fast aimed at getting the government to return Church property.
The five Protestant preachers, Yang Rongli (杨荣丽), Wang Xiaoguang (王晓光), Cui Jiaxing (崔家星), Zhang Huamei (张花梅), and Yang Xuan (杨旋), were convicted for "illegally occupying land" and "assembling a crowd to disrupt public order.” Yang Rongli and Zhang Huamei, both women, were given sentences of seven and four years respectively, Li said. The three men, including Pastor Wang Xiaoguang, got three and four years.
All five were leaders of an unregistered church group in Linfen that numbers up to 60,000 people, and were arrested on 13 September when Linfen City police and hired thugs raided a dormitory building used by the house church as a meeting place,
On 23 September, Yang Rongli was seized and detained by local police on her way to petition the provincial government about the incident. In the following days, police took into custody more than then individuals affiliated with the church. Other than the five sentenced today, all the other were released.
The persecution of the Linfen community is but the latest example of a campaign that has been going on for years against underground Protestant groups, estimated to have around 50 million members.
The campaign is designed to force Protestant groups to join the Three Self-Patriotic Movement—a government-sanctioned patriotic Christian organisation—or be suppressed (see “Secret party document wants to “normalise” Chinese Protestants,” in AsiaNews, 16 November 2007).
What is happening to the nuns in Tianjin is also the latest case of expropriation at the expense of the Church.
According to the UCAN news agency, about 20 members of the Sisters of Charity took part in a "fasting prayer”, refusing to eat and drink, in order to see the return of a Church-owned building the government seized and sold to developers. Because of dehydration and lack of food, seven of them required hospitalisation.
The building is located in central Tianjin and is one of the oldest structures of the city. It is called ‘Charity House’ and used to be an orphanage. It was used by the Church until the 1950s when the Communist government seized it.
Under Chinese law, it should be used for social purposes and be returned to its rightful owners.
The nuns’ case in Tianjin is similar to that of a group of nuns in Xian who were beaten in 2005 as they tried to stop the demolition of their school, which the authorities had seized and sold to developers (see, “Nuns beaten in Xian,” in AsiaNews, 28 November 2005).