Stefan J. Bos, Worthy News Chief International Correspondent with reporting from China
BEIJING, CHINA (Worthy News) -- Over 60 Christian leaders, including two South Korean pastors and an elderly well-known evangelical believer, were detained in Central China as part of a crackdown on unauthorized worship, a religious advocacy group said Wednesday, February 18.
U.S.-based China Aid Association (CAA) told Worthy News that at least four church leaders remain in custody, more than a week after police raided an evangelical seminar in Nanyang city in central Henan province.
China's Communist government allows worship only in state-supervised churches, which claim about 11 million members, far less than the up to 130 million Christians in China. Christians and clergy in unofficial churches are regularly harassed and detained amid concerns among Communist officials about the spread of Christianity, according to local Christians and several advocacy group.
The participants came from four provinces for the event at which two South Korean pastors had been invited to speak, China Aid said. They were reportedly escorted to a hotel in Nanyang by police, where their personal belongings were taken. The Christians were registered, fined and released, the group said. It was not clear how much they had to pay.
Li Dewei, director of the propaganda office of the public security bureau of Nanyang city, said in published remarks he did not know about the matter.
The two South Korean pastors, who were only identified as Kim and Chang were expelled from China on February 14 for "engaging in illegal religious activities," CAA said. They were reportedly also banned from re-entering China for five years.
Earlier, Chinese authorities detained Yuan Shenlun, a well-known evangelical believer in his 70s who already spent 14 years in prison, on charges of being part of the Christian "Shouter" group in the Chinese government's "Strike Hard" campaign against unauthorized worship, CAA said.
Yuan, who also works as a coal miner, was detained late December 31, 2008 after security forces in Henan province allegedly tricked him into collecting religious materials. "When he went to the storage center to pick up the materials, Public Security Bureau (PSB) officers were waiting for him. He is being held at No. 1 Detention Center of Pingdingshan City in Henan," CAA said.
A Christian lawyer was to represent him in court as he has been charged with "using an evil cult organization to obstruct justice." However representing allegedly persecuted Christians can be dangerous for lawyers, CAA said. Last week Worthy News and its partner news agency BosNewsLife reported that Attorney Gao Zhisheng was forcibly taken from his hometown in Shaanxi province by a dozen police officers.
"He has not been seen or heard from since," his abduction on February 4, CAA confirmed, adding that his family fears he may be tortured. Gao wrote earlier that his was mistreated during more than 50 days when he was first abducted.
In a published letter he said he was forced to lie naked on the floor for 13 days and nights and that an "electric shock baton was put all over" him. "And my full body; my heart, lungs and muscles began jumping under my skin uncontrollably. I was writhing on the ground in pain, trying to crawl away."
One his the interrogators allegedly also electrocuted his genitals "Every time when I was tortured, I was always repeatedly threatened 'Your death is sure if you share this with the outside world.' "Gao's family is concerned that Gao may be experiencing the same abuse now," CAA said. "Because of his work defending underground Christians and others persecuted in China, the Chinese government has tried to silence him since 2005." His wife and two children were allegedly also targeted by security forces.
Chinese government has denied wrongdoing but says it upholds the law. However CAA said it wants to the international community to seek "act on Gao Zhisheng’s behalf" and other detained Christians, ahead of an upcoming visit to China this week by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.