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Chinese lawyer gets religious liberty award

WASHINGTON (BP)–Fan Yafeng, a Chinese human rights lawyer and religious liberty advocate, has received the 2009 John Leland Religious Liberty Award for his defense of persecuted Christians in China.

Richard Land, president of Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, presented the award during an April 14 ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.

Rep. Trent Franks, R.-Ariz., and Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid Association, were among those in attendance.

Land described Fan as “a courageous defender of persecuted Christians in China, including the defense of house church pastors and Christian lay leaders.”

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The ERLC’s John Leland Religious Liberty Award is presented each year to an individual who has significantly aided to the cause of religious liberty. Leland, an 18th-century Baptist preacher and evangelist, was instrumental in the guarantee of religious liberty as secured in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

Previous recipients include Fu, former Sen. Rick Santorum, R.-Pa., and Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan.

Fu accepted the award on Fan’s behalf. Fan, who is prohibited from leaving China, was able to join the presentation by a live video feed.

Land called Fan a “hero of the faith,” noting he is a leading advocate for constitutional democracy who, at the risk of imprisonment and physical abuse, works with other religious liberty lawyers in appealing for human rights for Chinese citizens.

Among his many accomplishments, Fan founded the Chinese Civil Rights Defenders league and co-founded the Chinese Christian Rights Defense Lawyers Association. He also pastors a house church in Beijing where he provides Christian mentorship to young attorneys.

In his remarks, Fan asked for prayer for a “strong faith” and prayer that a “greater revival will happen for China and for … particularly human rights defenders in China so that we can better prepare for the revival to come and to glorify the name of the Lord.”

Fan is no stranger to harassment by the government. He was reportedly dismissed from his position at the China Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing late last year for “political reasons.” During U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to China in November 2009, Fan and other Chinese rights activists were detained by police when they gathered near the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

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Franks voiced appreciation for the gift of religious freedom in the United States and for the ability to worship without fear of being attacked. Millions of men, women and children around the world are being impoverished and sold into slavery for exercising their faith, Franks said, while Americans are free to worship as they choose.

“I just want to commend Dr. Fan for his outstanding work to defend the house church in China…. I just can’t tell you what a hero I think he is,” Franks said, calling him one of the most courageous people in China. “He daily fights for the human dignity of all people throughout China, especially for that fundamental right of religious freedom,” Franks continued.

Fu, describing Fan as a symbol of freedom for his relentless pursuit of human rights, said the award is a testimony to his spirit of servanthood, his compassion and his justice.

Land noted his continued prayer for Christians throughout China who are facing intense persecution for their religious beliefs. He thanked those who are working to protect human rights and offered hope to those who are feeling discouraged in their pursuit for religious freedom.

“Recognizing Dr. Fan with this award puts a spotlight on our suffering Christian brothers and sisters in China,” Land said. “We hope and pray that recognizing Dr. Fan with this religious liberty award reminds them that they are not forgotten or alone,” he said.

The recognition of Fan “serves also to remind the Chinese governmental authorities that millions of concerned Christians around the world are watching how they treat our Chinese Christian brothers and sisters,” Land added.

“No one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave,” Land said, citing the second inaugural address of former President George W. Bush, himself a previous recipient of the ERLC’s religious liberty award.
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Hillary May is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.