By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)-- A Chinese house church pastor who has been detained since December 9, 2015, was sentenced to two years and six months in prison by a court in China’s central Guizhou province on controversial charges of “divulging state secrets,”, trial observers said.
Yang Hua, also known as Li Guozhi, was originally detained during a raid on his Huoshi Church, when he tried to halt police from confiscating a computer hard drive, said advocacy group ChinaAid, which is in close contacts with the congregation.
Christians also said that he was held for “obstructing justice” and “gathering a crowd to disturb social order”. The government appointed prosecution tortured him in prison, but were not removed from his case, 'despite Yang’s lawyers filing a lawsuit against them, Christians said.
“This is nothing but purely barbaric religious persecution," added Bob Fu, a former house church pastor and current president of ChinaAid. “We urge President Obama and President-Elect Trump to unequivocally condemn this brutal act,” he said
Charges relating to “state secrets” are often levelled at activists and dissidents and can entail certain restrictions, such as family members not being allowed to attend the trial, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
Church members reportedly said that the detention is part of an attempt by authorities to pressure the church into registering with the state-sanctioned religious association, the Three Self Patriotic Movement, or face closure.
In September 2016 Yang Hua’s lawyers revealed that he had apparently suffered from serious health conditions as a result of his ill-treatment in detention.
His Living Stone Church, an unregistered Protestant congregation with over 700 members, has experienced increasingly repressive measures by the authorities, confirmed Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), an advocacy group following the case.
A “Rectification Order” received by the church in November 2015 from the Nanming District City Urban Administrative and Law Enforcement Bureau reportedly stated that the church’s use of a commercial building "was illegal" and gave the church three days to respond or incur fines.
An application by the church for a reconsideration of the penalty notice was rejected by Guiyang Municipal People’s Government, and several church members were detained or fined in connection with the case, Christian rights activists said.
“This sentence follows years of harassment of Pastor Yang Hua and other members of
Living Stone Church," said Mervyn Thomas, CSW's chief executive.
He said CSW believes the church was targeted because it refuses to register under the state-sanctioned Three Self Patriotic Movement. In addition, "Some members have also provided advice and support to other churches facing pressure from the authorities," he explained, adding that his group had urged the Chinese authorities to release the pastor and "to respect all Chinese citizens’ right to freedom of religion or belief.”
News of the sentencing came shortly after BosNewsLife reported that a Christian woman in Xinjiang was been sentenced to three years in prison after holding a Bible study in her home. The developments come amid increasing restrictions on religious freedom, rights activists say.
Chinese authorities have reportedly also targeted non-Christians, preventing thousands of Tibetans from attending an important Buddhist ceremony in India led by the Dalai Lama which was to take place 11-13 January 2017.
Officials confiscated passports from potential participants and ordered those already in India and Nepal to return to China, news reports said.