By BosNewsLife Asia Service
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)-- Family members of Pastor Gong Shengliang, whose house church movement was banned as a cult in China, have renewed calls for his release from prison after he apparently suffered a stroke but was denied medical treatment.
In an open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping seen by BosNewsLife Saturday, June 1, his daughter Gong Huali says her father's life is in danger.
The pastor, who has been jailed since 2001, suffered a "cerebral infarction" or ischemic stroke and "high blood pressure" late last year that already left him unable to walk or speak normally, she wrote.
"Because of the complete absence of minimal medical care, his cerebral and cerebellum functions have been severely affected. His life is in serious danger."
It came as another setback for the charismatic Gong, whose South China Church attracted some 100,000 followers before a crackdown.
The movement's popularity, along with its refusal to join the state-backed Christian church with its ban on proselytizing, brought the South China Church into conflict with the government, which labeled the group a cult in 1995, church observers said.
Amid police pressure, Gong’s aides allegedly beat followers-turned-informants. He was detained in 2001 and is serving a 19-year sentence on charges of encouraging the beatings and raping at least two followers.
Gong and his family have denied the charges, saying the main reason for the detention was his leadership of the rapidly expanding
South China Church movement.
"My father was arrested because of his faith in Jesus Christ," his daughter wrote President Xi, adding that the Hubei region government charged and detained him for "rape" in 2001.
He was initially "sentenced to death" which was turned into a prison term, she said.
"Ridiculously enough, the so-called "victim" was also arrested, tortured, and sentenced to jail with harsh penalty," Gong Huali explained, suggesting that she was a devoted member of the illegal house church movement.
"After being jailed, my father was forced to do hard physical labor" despite following prison rules, she stressed in the open letter, which was also published on websites of advocacy groups China Ministries International and China Aid Association.
Prison authorities have also pressed Gong to recant his faith in Christ, accused him of continuing to run the church from prison,
family members said earlier in separate remarks.
The daughter suggested that the mistreatment may have sparked her father's stroke. "When he was arrested, he suffered many savage tortures. He was imprisoned in a very damp area for the first two years [and] inflicted with rheumatism," she recalled.
"His gastroenteritis went from bad to worse. Once his gastroenteritis made him unable to eat for two weeks and he found blood in stool and urine."
She wrote China's leader that prison officials "were very cruel" to him, "never giving him any medical care for these last ten years" and more.
"We have asked for his release on bail for urgent medical treatment, but again and again, our petitions were completely ignored without any reasonable response. It is very urgent for my father to have immediate medical treatment, otherwise he might die soon in the prison or remain disabled for life."
She told the president that she realized he may be "fully occupied with national and international" affairs. Yet, "my love of my father urges and compels me to write to you, with shedding tears and trembling hands. If you pay a little concern to my father’s case, let him bailed out for medical treatment," she said.
"Our family will rejoice for such a reunion to see my dying father. Then and only then all of us will be truly [part] of the harmonious society you advocated..."
There was no immediate known response from the Chinese Communist leadership.
However Communist officials are concerned about the uncontrolled spread of Christianity, which they view as a threat to China's carefully choreographed rules of government.
There are 130 million devoted Christians in the country, according to church groups and some officials, with many preferring to worship outside the government controlled denominations.
Police pressure has left the growing number of house churches feeling besieged, forcing them deeper underground, where they are out of reach of established churches and more likely to deviate from the accepted teachings by the government.
Yet, despite the difficulties his sister Gong Shuzhen said she had not given up hope. "I asked him if his spirits were good. He could only say `good, good,'" she said earlier in Beijing, where she, the 60-year-old pastor's two adult daughters and two other followers had come to petition the Supreme Court and national legislature. "I told him, `The God we believe in will save you'."
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).
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