Soon after winning the right to host the 2008 Olympics, China is showing the world that being a non-registered Christian is a most dangerous sport.
A recent wave of attacks on house church leaders and members follows being admitted to the World Trade Organization and being granted “Most Favored Nation” trading status by the U.S. Ironically, this comes only weeks after authorities issued an overture making the registering of house churches easier. It also outlined stiffer penalties for refusing to do so.
A 38-year-old Christian businessman from Hong Kong, Li Guangquiang, has been jailed for allegedly attempting to deliver 33,000 Bibles to an unregistered church movement that Chinese authorities consider a sect. The movement, called the “Shouters,” was started by Witness Lee, disciple of Watchman Nee, and now boasts 500,000 members who follow strict observance of Bible teachings. It refuses to register because that would keep them from teaching key Bible subjects such as the resurrection, the second coming of Christ and the Book of Revelation.
Li was arrested in May and indicted in December on charges of “using an evil cult to damage a law-based society.” The reference to an “evil cult” could subject Li to the death penalty.
In December, Gong Shengliang, the 46-year-old leader of the 50,000-member, unregistered South China Church, was arrested. A secret trial December 18 found him guilty of “using an evil cult” to “undermine the enforcement of the law” and “complicity in rape.” The rape charges stemmed from alleged “confessions” of church members who were stripped and beaten by local police until they “confessed.” They have since retracted the forced confessions. Still, Gong was sentenced to die on January 5 but a last-minute appeal gave him a reprieve.
Four other church members received death sentences that were suspended for two years. Fifteen more received jail sentences ranging from two years to life. Another 500 members reportedly are being closely monitored by the PSB.
The Public Security Bureau police arrested 63 members of the group last May. Word was received in mid-January that police had beaten one of its members, sister Zhong Ju Yu, to death. The family was informed of this last summer, given the equivalent of $8000, and threatened with arrest if they leaked news to the public.