By BosNewsLife Asia Service
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)-- A major rights group urged China Wednesday, August 3, to release the deputy chairman of one of China's largest umbrella groups of house churches who was sentenced last month to two years labour camp.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), whicb has close contacts with Chinese Christians, said Pastor Shi Enhao of the Chinese House Church Alliance was sentenced "to re-education through labor" on charges of “holding illegal meetings and organizing illegal venues for religious meetings.”
In a statement to BosNewsLife, CSW’s National Director, Stuart Windsor said, “CSW calls upon the Chinese authorities to respect the right of religious freedom for all its citizens to worship in a place of their choice by releasing Pastor Shi Enhao..."
He stressed that the pastor's case ""is representative of countless others of ongoing repression.”
The Chinese House Church Alliance is a large umbrella organization for house churches. Leaders of the group have faced severe persecution in the past, including arrest, imprisonment and harassment, according to CSW and other rights investigators who contacted BosNewsLife.
Pastor Shi has been under scrutiny for some time amid reports that he served a 12-day administrative detention sentence after he was detained on May 31 in Jiangsu province.
On June 1 Pastor Shi’s home was raided by police, who took away books and papers, according to rights investigators.
He is among many others who are held in labor camps, according to Chinese Christians and international rights groups such as Amnesty International.
In 2008, it was reported that 80,000 people were held in 300 centers across the country, but CSW said the real figure is thought to be much higher.
"Pastor Shi’s criminal detention comes as a prominent Beijing house church faces ongoing repression. The 1000-member independent Shouwang Church currently has four of its leaders under house arrest and church members are being detained weekly as they attempt to worship outdoors," CSW said.
The outdoor services came after their landlord was pressured to evict the congregation, Chinese Christians said.
Unofficial or ‘house’ churches in China are those congregations who choose, often for reasons of conscience, not to join the officially recognized churches including the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, or official Protestant Church.
House churches can face persecution from authorities due to their de facto illegal status, Christians said.
China's Communist government has consistently denied human rights abuses saying Christians are free to worship within the established denominations. Many of the country's estimated up to 130 million Christians are believed to gather within the house churches.
The detentions are linked to concerns among the atheistic oriented government about the spread Christianity outside the state-controlled churches.