By BosNewsLife Asia Service
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)– Two members of an evangelical house church in China have appealed against a one-year sentence of “re-education through labor” despite difficulties with authorities, Christians confirmed Friday, September 24.
Gao Jianli and Liu Yunhua were initially detained in March for 15 days along with other Full Scope Church members in China’s Henan province after they refused to pay fines to police officers who raided their church, church members said.
They were given one-year sentences of “re-education through labor” on March 25 and appealed, forcing a public trial. But supporters said they were denied permission to enter the courtroom during Monday’s hearing in Henan.
Pastor Zhang Mingxuan, head of the China Association of House Churches, said he was detained by police outside the Intermediate People’s Court in Xuchang city. “I went to the court this afternoon because of the labor camp case involving our brothers,” Zhang said. “I was there watching with our brothers and sisters, and plainclothes police from Shangqiu and Xuchang threatened us and stopped us from taking photographs with our cell phones.”
“There were nine of us who came, but none of us was allowed in,” added Liu Sen, son of defendant Yunhua.
Lawyer Yang Huiwen, who represents Jianli and Yunhua, said refusing to honor visitor passes was against the law. “Some people were subjected to illegal obstruction by police from Shangqiu city while trying to gain a visitor pass to hear the trial,” explained Huiwen in a statement.
He said the appeal case centered “around due process, whether correct procedures were followed, and whether there was sufficient evidence” to send Jianli and Yunhua for “re-education through labor”, an administrative sentence usually handed down without trial for up to three years.
“Our defense was basically that there was no substantive evidence that justified a labor camp sentence,” added Huiwen, “and secondly, that this case had no relation to the kinds of cases provided for in the ‘Process for Implementing Re-education Through Labor’ guidelines. Thirdly, we argued that it was inappropriate to style a Protestant church as an ‘evil cult,'” referring to comparisons with the banned Falun Gong group.
“Such criteria cannot therefore be used as a basis for punishment,” he stressed. “In doing so, the authorities have exceeded the limits of executive power.”
China Aid Association (CAA), an American-based Christian rights group, called on Henan authorities to “uphold justice.” On its website, it said police considered the Full Scope Church a cult in part because “church members cry and weep during prayers.”
“We encourage local citizens of conscience to attend the session to show their support,” CAA said.
Most of China’s estimated 130 million Christians are believed to worship within ‘house churches’, named this way as they are often organized in homes of believers outside the churches recognized by China’s Communist government.