09/20/2007, 00.00
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Protestant leader forced to make soccer balls for Olympics

Cai Zhuohua was sentenced to three years in prison for “illegal trafficking in Bibles” and in detention he was forced to make soccer balls for the upcoming Beijing Olympic Games. His mother laments that police are still harassing and threatening him.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – The China Aid Association (CAA), a US-based organisation that monitors religious freedom in mainland China, reported recently that a Protestant house church leader, Cai Zhuohua, sentenced in 2005 to three years in prison for “illegal trafficking in Bibles,’ was forced to make soccer balls for upcoming Beijing Olympic Games. Police forced him to work 12 to 14 hours a day, and prevented him from reading the Bible in prison

Cai Zhuohua was arrested in downtown Beijing in September 2004. Seized by plain-clothed state security officers, he was bound hands and feet and thrown into a van.

His wife and brother-in-law were also arrested and sentenced respectively to 24 and 18 months in prison.

Reverend Cai, who is in charge of six Protestant house churches, was found in possession of some 200,000 religious documents.

At present, he must report once a month to the Public Security Bureau.

After his first visit to the Bureau on September 13, his mother told CAA that he received warnings and was intimidated. Now he “feels he won’t have any freedom even after his release.”

Beijing does authorise the practice of Protestant Christianity but only as part of the Movement of the Three Autonomies (MTA), an organisation set up in 1950 after Mao seized power and foreign missionaries and Chinese church leaders were expelled.

According to official figures, there are some ten million official Protestants in China, all in the MTA.

Underground Protestants, who meet in unregistered ‘house churches’, are estimated to be more than 50 million.

In China only the State Bureau for Religious Affairs has the right to publish the Bible, generally in small numbers that cannot be sold in bookstores.

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