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Bad news overshadows good news for Chinese Christians

BEIJING (BP)–A popular house church leader and his wife were released from government custody in China recently, but that good news was overshadowed by the fact that countless other Chinese Christians still are imprisoned, including bookstore owner Shi Weihan who has been described as “unrecognizable” following his poor treatment in detention.

Zhang “Bike” Mingxuan, chairman of the Federation House Church, and his wife Xie Fenglan were released from Public Security Bureau custody Aug. 29 but were told they could not return to Beijing until the end of the Paralympics Sept. 16, according to the human rights group China Aid Association.

Since Aug. 6, Zhang and his wife had been on forced vacation, accompanied by about 15 government officials, Zhang’s wife told Bob Fu, China Aid’s president, in a phone conversation following their release. She said Zhang had been actively evangelizing and advocating the role of the house church to his captors during his detainment.

Before his capture, Zhang was considered one of the most outspoken evangelists in China, traveling mostly on his bike, handing out literature and Bibles and preaching the Gospel, Voice of the Martyrs said.

China Aid and Voice of the Martyrs had circulated a petition while Zhang was in captivity, and 57,000 people signed on to urge the Chinese government to free the pastor and his wife and to “look beyond the physical needs to also consider the deeper, fundamental need for personal freedom in decisions of faith and belief.” When such a need is fully acknowledged by authorities, the petition said, “the resulting freedom strengthens the people and the country for honorable prosperity.”

Representatives from China Aid delivered the petition to the Chinese Embassy in Washington Sept. 4.

“While the release of Pastor Zhang Mingxuan was welcomed by the petitioners, CAA continues to urge the Chinese government to stop its consistent record of illegal religious persecution and to release other Chinese Christians who have been wrongfully imprisoned for their faith …,” China Aid said in a news release Sept. 5.

“CAA and its supporters around the world will continue to press the Chinese government to release these Christians and to act with consistency and responsibility toward religious freedom.”

One of the highest profile cases involves Shi Weihan, a Chinese bookstore owner who has been imprisoned and tortured by government authorities. Compass Direct News reported Sept. 5 that Shi is awaiting the outcome of an Aug. 19 court appearance.

The news service said Shi has been denied proper medication and diet for his diabetes. Severe weight loss has made him almost “unrecognizable” to his closest friends. He first was detained last November and then acquitted of charges in January. In March he was detained again and forced to sign a “confession” saying he had engaged in the printing and distribution of a large number of illegal publications.

Compass Direct said the Public Security Bureau officials in Beijing initially denied having Shi in custody, but after his attorney applied pressure, they allowed him a single visit with his attorney and labeled him a “dangerous religious element.” Shi’s family and friends had expected a trial to take place in June, marking the end of three months of detention without charges. No such trial took place.

In August, authorities moved Shi from the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau back to the Haidian District Detention Center where he was held after his first arrest, Compass Direct said, adding that an unnamed source speculated that the government held Shi virtually “incommunicado” during the Olympics because of fears that he would use his foreign connections to embarrass China during the Games.

American businessman Ray Sharpe is one of Shi’s many foreign friends, and he testified earlier this year to the Chinese Christian’s strong patriotism.

“I know him to be a successful travel agent because he works so hard to help all of his clients fall in love with his beloved homeland. He longs for foreigners to understand China’s culture, her history, her many proud accomplishments,” Sharpe said.

Fu, China Aid’s president, strongly condemned Beijing authorities for their cruel and unjust treatment of Shi, the human rights group said in a news release, and he urged them to release Shi as soon as possible to avoid international pressure.

Concern about Shi’s treatment can be registered by calling the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., at 202-338-6688 or by contacting U.S. congressmen and senators through the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs can be called directly at 011-86-10-65592311 or 011-86-10-13910869861. The Beijing Public Security Bureau’s Haidian District Substation can be reached by dialing 011-86-10-82510110 or 011-86-10-82519350.
Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach.

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