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100-plus Chinese church leaders arrested at training retreat

BARTLESVILLE, Okla. (BP)–More than 100 house church leaders have been arrested in westernmost China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region, according to The Voice of the Martyrs, an Oklahoma-based interdenominational ministry aiding the persecuted church.

According to VOM sources, the house church leaders were attending a July 12 “co-workers meeting,” or retreat, when they were surrounded by more than 200 military police accompanied by Public Security Bureau (PSB) and other officers who arrived at the scene in 40-plus police and military vehicles. No arrest warrants or even official identification papers were shown by officers as they carried out the raid, VOM reported.

The meeting was being held to train and encourage Christian workers in the Xinjiang region, with a population of 17 million, 60 percent of whom are the mostly Muslim Uyghur people.

All of the house church leaders remained in custody as of July 27, Todd Nettleton, VOM director of news services, told Baptist Press. “It appears they’re not going to be released anytime soon,” he said.

The order for the raid “had to come from fairly high up … from someone with a lot of pull” in order to orchestrate such a show of force, Nettleton said.

The Ying Shang Church, a large house church network headquartered in China’s Anhui Province, sponsored the meeting. The venue of the retreat was the Retreat Center for Railroad Workers located in the town of Liu Gong in Xinjiang’s Chang Ji Zhou district.

Authorities had shaved the heads of about a dozen detainees, Nettleton said he was told by VOM sources in China. Several have been confined in the so-called “Transformation and Study Center” where they will be interrogated and pressured to renounce their faith under threat of formal charges and a trial. Thirty of the leaders were being held by the PSB near the retreat center. The rest have been transported back to their home areas and are being held by the PSB in their respective areas.

VOM sources said those who were from other provinces were treated differently after the arrest. In China it is illegal to cross a provincial border to hold religious meetings without approval from the Religious Affairs Bureau and the state-sponsored Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) church. Sources told VOM that police already have contacted the home villages of those from outside Xinjiang, seeking additional information about their religious activities.

Among those confirmed to have been arrested are Wang Yu Lian, a leader in the Ying Shang Church for more than 20 years, and Jin Da, the 34-year-old general secretary of the TSPM of Ningbo City in China’s Zhejiang Province. Jin has 46 TSPM churches under his leadership but reportedly is supportive of unregistered house churches as well.

“This is yet another example of the Chinese government’s harassment and persecution of unregistered church groups,” Nettleton said. “We encourage Christians around the world to pray for these brothers and sisters, and to call the Chinese embassy on their behalf.”

In China’s Sichuan Province, 40 house church leaders also were arrested while attending a training seminar July 17 in the city of Cheng Du — along with a Taiwanese couple who were leading the seminar.

All 40 have been released, but the whereabouts of the Taiwanese couple is unknown. VOM sources said it is likely they will be deported and blacklisted by the Chinese government.

“China wants us to think their people have freedom to practice religion,” Nettleton said. “These cases and the hundreds like them show that to be a complete farce.”

He told Baptist Press, “There are more Christians in prison in China than all other countries combined.”

Letters of protest can be sent to the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., at the following address: Ambassador Yang Jiechi, Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, 2300 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008. The embassy’s telephone number is (202) 328-2500; fax, (202) 588-0032.

In May, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended in its fifth annual report that China again be designated among “countries of particular concern,” a label reserved for the worst violators of religious liberty. Also recommended for CPC designation were Sudan, Iran, North Korea and Burma. The USCIRF is a bipartisan panel of nine members established by a 1998 law as an independent body to advise the White House and Congress to provide an analysis of the status of religious freedom in various countries.

The commission’s findings on China included these statements:

“The Chinese government continues to engage in particularly severe violations of religious freedom. The State Department has stated publicly that conditions of human rights, including religious freedom, deteriorated in 2003. Moreover, the Chinese government has not fulfilled commitments it made during the December 2002 U.S.-China Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue. Chinese government officials control, monitor, and restrain religious practice, purportedly to protect national security or stability and public safety or health. However, the government’s actions to restrict religious belief and practice reportedly go far beyond legitimate protection of security interests and exceed what is permissible under international law. By most accounts, prominent religious leaders and laypersons alike continue to be confined, tortured, imprisoned, and subject to other forms of ill treatment on account of their religion or belief.

The USCIRF’s 2004 report may be obtained online at www.uscirf.gov.

According to a report by VOM from statistics kept by one branch of China’s giant house church movement over a 19-year period ending in 2001, 23,686 arrests had been made from the group of 500,000 believers in 40 church groups; 129 people had been killed for their faith; 208 had been permanently handicapped; 4,014 had been sentenced to “re-education through labor”; and 1,545 had been forced to flee to avoid arrest.
Compiled by Art Toalston.

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