By BosNewsLife Asia Service with BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)– Christian rights activists have condemned Chinese police and government agencies for reportedly attacking church members, lawyers and Christians in central China, where they visited the family of detained Protestant Pastor Zhang Shaojie.
Local Christians said the believers were harassed and detained by “hired thugs”, on December 23 and 24. Among those attacked was Pastor Cao Nan of Shenzhen city, who had travelled to Nanle county in Henan province to conduct a service to pray and rally support for Pastor Zhang’s case.
Christians said Cao was dragged from his car by local police, who allegedly beat him. He was then taken to a police station where he had allegedly pepper spray sprayed into his eyes.
The next day, on December 24, lawyers representing the Nanle church detainees, along with some Christians, were prevented from leaving Pastor Zhang Shaojie’s home, Christians said.
When one of the lawyers tried to leave the next day, a group of “hired thugs” surrounding the house forcibly took away his legal documents, mobile phone, identification papers and other items, reported Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), an advocacy group investigating the case.
Others were physically attacked when they tried to leave, Chinese Christians said. Pastor Zhang and over 20 members of his Nanle County Christian Church in Henan province were detained on November 16, his daugther, Zhang Yuenyuen, told BosNewsLife at the time.
“Because all the church workers are caught, my sister and I fled and are in hiding,” she added.
The detentions were remarkable as the congregation belongs to the state-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement. Chinese authorities are not known to have commented on the case.
Yet, a Chinese Christian with close knowledge about the church, who identifies himself publicly only as Brother John for security reasons, told BosNewsLife that the popular pastor was apparently seen as a threat by Communist authorities.
“Pastor Zhang had been voted to be heading the government sponsored church systems [as he] is respected inside and outside church because of his services in the communities around. However, the local government objected to him,” Brother John explained.
Since Pastor Zhang’s detention, lawyers representing the detainees have repeatedly been prevented from meeting their clients and foreign journalists have complained about intimidation and harassment by local authorities.
The China Aid Association (CAA), an aid group supporting Christians in the area, said Pastor Zhang’s family and the church itself are under constant surveillance. Government agencies have reportedly blocked church members and visiting Christians from entering the church building.
In addition, CAA said it noted several cases of harassment and restrictions against unregistered churches in other provinces, including warnings from authorities in Guangdong province, pressure to cancel Christmas events in Shandong province, and disruption of meetings by police using tear gas in Sichuan province.
“The harassment, intimidation and physical attacks against lawyers and church members in Nanle is a clear violation of their human rights and further undermines the rule of law,” said CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas in a statement to BosNewsLife.
“Rather than responding swiftly to the lawyers’ requests to meet with their clients, local officials have used violence, threats and intimidation to attempt to silence them.”
He said his group has urged authorities to “immediately cease all attacks on the Nanle church members’ lawyers, relatives and visiting Christians, to grant lawyers access to their clients, and to allow the church to meet together
The reported crackdown comes less than two months after China’s Communist Party promised to abolish labor camps where Christians are known to have been held along with other prisoners of conscience.
Some 400 party officials at the annual closed-door party gathering, known as Third Plenum, also promised to end the one-child policy, which Christian rights activists said led to many forced abortions.
The detentions of Christians are part of a wider crackdown and an official warning that the announced reforms do not mean China’s government will allow unlimited religious freedom, local Christians say.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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