is held at a detention facility where he is forced to carry out hard labor, human rights investigators said Friday, October 28.
US-based religious rights group China Aid Association (CAA), which has contacts with Christians in the area, said Pastor Cai Zhuohua is still waiting for a verdict from a Beijing Court which it claims was "delayed twice".
CAA said Pastor Cai "was arrested on September 11, 2004 at a bus stop, where he was dragged into a van by state security officers" on charges of "illegal business practices."
His wife, Xiao Yunfei, as well as her brother Xiao Gaowen and his wife Hu Jinyun were tried on the same charges on July 7, 2005, and tortured into making confessions, CAA claimed.
"This case caught international attention and represents the government's newest tactic to suppress religious freedom in the name of 'economic crimes'. All of the defendants in their first trial recanted confessions which were coerced through police abuse and torture," the group said.
Adding to their difficulties is news that one of Cai's defense lawyers, Mr. Zhang Xinshui, was ordered to pick up two court notices in July and September saying that the trial of the pastor was delayed due to "careless paper handling" by the court, CAA explained.
CAA stressed that meanwhile "Pastor Cai has been forced to work like a slave by peeling approximately 50 pounds of garlic per day. This is in addition to the 300 to 500 Yuan per month ($40-$60) his family is required to deposit for his living expenses at the detention center in Beijing."
The religious rights group quoted legal scholars as saying that it was "very rare" for prosecutors to initiate a trial delay. "This shows that the government has come to the realization that it will be extremely difficult to make a case against Pastor Cai and his family members," CAA said.
"It was clear from the very beginning that the charges against Pastor Cai were false," said CAA President Bob Fu, a former coworker of Pastor Cai, in a statement to BosNewsLife. "Instead of buying more time to avoid embarrassment before [US] President Bush's visit next month, we urge the Chinese government to release the Cai family immediately."
Chinese officials have denied human rights abuses, and the government says it only crackdown on "dangerous sects." There are at least up to 80 million Christians in China, most of whom attend the 'unofficial' house churches, human rights groups estimate.