US-based China Aid Association (CAA), which has close contacts with the Christians, told BosNewsLife that officials of the ‘China Gospel Fellowship’ (CGF) house church group were detained by Chinese security forces in Henan province on November 18 during a Bible study meeting in Peichang village in the area of Fanhu town.
It said officials of the local Public Security Bureau, one of China’s main law enforcement agencies, detained the church leaders. While 21 have since been released 19 others remained behind bars Wednesday, November 28, CAA added.
"Family members of the 19 detainees were notified by police to send blankets and 360 yuan ($50) for 15 days living expenses," CAA said. Among those detained is CGF founder Pastor Shen Yiping, the group added.
CAA said it also established that another pastor, identified as Liu Huiwen, was sentenced to 18 months of prison by Gansu Dongxiang Nationality Autonomous County People’s Court last month for distributing Christian materials among Muslims.
"Liu was detained on April 28, [this year] after distributing flyers at a funeral and was arrested on May 31. The bill of indictment from Dongxiang County Procuratorate charges that defendant Liu Huiwen committed the crime of publishing a discriminating work and insulting people of ethnic minorities when he distributed a flyer called ‘A Letter to Our Muslim Friends’,” CAA said.
In published remarks, the defense attorney for pastor Liu, Li Dunyong, countered that the public letter "does not contain any discrimination or insults against people of ethnic minorities." He said "it was not intended for the people of ethnic minorities" and that it was "a case of minor circumstance and that the conduct of the defendant has not exceeded the boundary set for freedom of speech."
The arguments were rejected by the court, CAA said, adding that the trial “was not fair and the 18-month heavy sentence” was in its words a barbarous attempt by the Chinese authorities to stem the growth of Christianity that is expanding in China."
It said it had urged Christians worldwide and governments to pressure Chinese authorities "to retry the case through strict and accurate interpretation of the relevant Chinese law." Rights watchers claim China’s government has stepped up a crackdown on house churches amid concerns within the Communist Party that believers will use the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing as a venue to spread Christianity. Chinese officials have strongly denied any wrongdoing and say Chinese Christians are free to worship within the walls of the ‘official’ churches.