Beijing (AsiaNews) - The daughter, son in law and granddaughter of Pastor Zhang Shaojie were forced to flee China after being subjected to a campaign of violence and intimidation by the authorities. Their "sin" is that they are relatives of the Christian leader, who was recently sentenced to 12 years in prison for opposing the theft of his churches' land by Communist officials in the county of Nanle.
The escape of the three - Zhang Huixin, her husband Sun Zhulei and their 1 year old daughter Sun Jiexi - was aided by an underground network of Chinese human rights activists. According to China Aid, the group that broke the news, the three are now in Texas. An email written by Zhang Huixin reads: " Our family and our church want to thank the US government and many anonymous church leaders in different parts of the world for helping assist our family¡¦s hard fought freedom".
Zhang Shaojie belongs to the Three-Self Movement, the "official" Protestant Church set up under Mao Zedong in the early years of his regime. In China, religious groups are allowed to operate if they register. However, underground Protestants (about 80 million) outnumber the official (Protestant) Three-Self Movement (about 20 million). Fearing that the situation might get out of hand, China's Communist Party has been cracking down for almost five years in order to eliminate underground communities or merge them into official ones.
According to some sources, the arrest was due to a dispute with local authorities over church-owned land, which the former wanted to sell them to private developers. The kind of practice is very common in China, where despite national law and jurisprudence, party officials have no qualms in stealing land from private individuals, villages or organised groups - such as churches or Buddhist monasteries - to make a profit.