Published: 09:45 GMT Daylight Time - Thursday 01 September 2011
Families told to pay for release of house church leaders in China
Country/Region: South and East Asia, China
A group of house church leaders from two remote regions of China are being held in detention while the authorities try to extort money from their families to secure their release.
They were arrested on 26 July when dozens of police and officers from the Domestic Security Protection Department raided a meeting in the city of Wuhai, Inner Mongolia, where more than 20 church leaders were gathered to plan summer church activities.
The police detained 21 people from Wuhai and Shizuishan, Ningxia province, and confiscated Bibles and other items from the meeting site. The leaders were held on suspicion of “using a cult organisation to undermine national law enforcement”.
Following physical examinations, six elderly members of the group who were found to be in poor health were released.
The remaining 15 were held for 15 days, after which their families were notified that the case had been sent to the prosecutor’s office. They were told that if they paid 50,000 yuan (£4,800, US$7,800), their loved ones would be released. But when they delivered the sum to the prosecutor’s office, it sent the case back to the Public Security Bureau, where more money was demanded of the families. They were told that several tens of thousands of yuan were required for the church leaders’ release, and that if the sum was not paid, they would be sent to labour camps or face criminal prosecution.
The detention of these church leaders is the latest attack by the Chinese authorities on the country’s unregistered or “house” churches. Last December, the government launched a new crackdown called “Operation Deterrence”, labelling the house-church movement a “cult”. The authorities officially permit the practice of Christianity only under the authority of state-controlled churches.
Five house church leaders who were illegally detained following a brutal assault by the authorities on Linfen house church in September 2009 are now free after serving their sentence in a labour camp. Five other church leaders are still in jail, serving custody terms of up to seven years. The church’s new building was demolished in the attack by 400 police, government officials and hired thugs; dozens of church members were severely beaten and more than 30 hospitalised with critical injuries.
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