NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Persecution against house churches in China last year was up 30.4 percent from 2006, and the total number of people persecuted was up 18.5 percent, according to a report by China Aid Association.
Nearly 700 Christians were arrested and detained in China last year, the Christian rights defense organization based in Texas said, and experts believe the increased harassment is related to the Chinese government exercising its authority ahead of the Beijing Olympics in August.
One of the most significant cases of persecution in China is the imprisonment of Zhang Mingxuan, president of the Chinese house church alliance, who has been arrested, beaten and incarcerated 12 times since his conversion to Christianity in 1986, according to China Aid.
Most recently, Zhang was forced to close an orphanage he had been operating with his two sons, and they were not able to take up residence elsewhere because of landlords being threatened by the government not to house Zhang.
In February, Zhang wrote an open letter to the international community, detailing the hardships and injustices he and others have endured.
“Many church leaders have been imprisoned, forced to work on labor camps, and had their homes searched. The Christians are said to be the enemy of the Communist Party,” Zhang wrote in the letter circulated by China Aid. “The small number of corrupt government officials try to grab money by seizing Christians, beating them up, sending them into exile, and harming them in person, in opposition to Hu Jintao’s call for building up a ‘harmonious society.’
“They label Christianity as a cult and persecute the church and its members by using such excuses as cracking down on illegal gatherings; they beat up Christians, revile them, put them in jail, and send them to labor camps. As of this moment, a large number of Christians are still in prison and education-through-labor centers,” Zhang wrote.
In December, 270 house church leaders were arrested in Shandong Province when they gathered for leadership training. After paying fines and finishing detention sentences that lasted from a few days to a few weeks, 249 were released, China Aid reported. The 21 most senior leaders, including 17 men and four women, were sentenced to up to three years in labor camps where they will spend the next three years being “re-educated” for their involvement in an “evil cult.”
Bob Fu, China Aid’s founder, called on Chinese authorities to release the remaining 21 prisoners and said the international community “will hold the Chinese government accountable for its reluctance to improve its worsening record on religious freedom before the Beijing Olympics.”
Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for Voice of the Martrys, told Baptist Press pastor Zhang Rongliang is another high-profile church leader imprisoned in China.
“The charges that they labeled against him were getting a passport illegally and leaving the country illegally. They did not publicly say he’s in prison because he’s a pastor,” Nettleton said.
Zhang Rongliang was arrested in 2004, having already spent 12 years in prison for his faith during five separate detentions, according to prisoneralert.com, a Voice of the Martyrs website. In 2004, Zhang Rongliang was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison, and the website notes that he was subjected to harsh torture including electric shock during his previous prison terms.
“One of the things that we hope will happen this year as we head up to the Olympics is that people will pray for China,” Nettleton said. “Pray for the church there, pray for the persecuted Christians there, and make this a year — sort of as the world is watching, let’s make it also the world is praying about the church and about activities in China. The first thing that they would ask is that we pray for them.
“If there are people who are going, we encourage you to take some Christian literature, have it in your suitcase,” Nettleton said. “Be ready to give it to your taxi driver or to the person who helps you at the hotel. Be ready to be a messenger of the Gospel if you’re going to be there.”
The Beijing Olympics are scheduled for Aug. 8-24.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.