By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
BEIJING (Worthy News) – Concerns mount over the plight of five Christians detained since early August in a rural area of China’s southwestern Yunnan province as part of a broader crackdown, Worthy News learned Saturday.
Wang Shunping, an ethnic Nu Christian preacher from Fugong county in the province’s Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture, was taken “into administrative detention” along with four others by Fugong police on August 2, Christians said.
The detentions near the border with Myanmar were reportedly linked to them renting a house in Fugong for Christian gatherings and giving free guitar and hymn lessons to young people.
The gatherings were reported to police at a time when China’s ruling Communists increased surveillance of groups deemed dangerous to their power base, according to advocacy activists.
On August 17, the five Christians were placed in “criminal detention.” That means the time they spend behind bars from that date will count towards jail terms if convicted, according to Christians familiar with the case.
In September, 16 local police reportedly asked the Procuratorate to formally arrest Wang, who has two young children, for “organizing and sponsoring an illegal gathering.”
Advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) told Worthy News that Wang’s lawyer has appealed to the procurator not to approve the arrest of Wang Shunping “on the basis that it is unconstitutional.”
However, it is understood that there is “little chance” that the procurator will adopt this opinion, CSW said. “The situation for the other four detainees is currently unknown.”
CSW’s CEO Scot Bower added that his group “ calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Wang Shunping and all those detained or imprisoned in connection to the peaceful exercise of their religion or belief.”
Baker claimed that the Christians “have clearly been targeted for gathering to practice their faith, as is their fundamental human right, and yet they have now spent over seven weeks in detention.”
Detentions of Christians in the region “appear to be part of a wider crackdown as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) prepares for its 20th National Party Congress” in October, CSW said.
On August 14, author and missionary researcher A Xin, also known as Xing Hongwei, was detained when police raided a Sunday service of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. He was released on bail 12 days later, Christians said.
On August 12, Geng Zejun, a preacher of The Rock Church in Shijiazui in the northwestern Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, was sentenced to 15 months in jail, trial observers said.
He had been charged with “organizing illegal gatherings,” which were attended by less than 20 people, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
On August 18, Xi’an police detained Pastor Lian Changnian, his wife Guo Jiuju, his son Pastor Lian Xuliang and daughter-in-law Zhang Jun, and two female church co-workers, Xing Aiping and Fu Juan. They are involved in the Church of Abundance (“Fengsheng”) in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province, Christians confirmed.
Officials from local Civil Affairs and Religious Affairs bureaus announced that the church had “held illegal gatherings and illegal fundraising activity in an illegal venue.”
The next day, the Xi’an Civil Affairs Bureau issued a notice announcing that the 30-year-old church had been officially banned, CSW told Worthy News. “Lian Changnian, Lian Xuliang, and Fu Juan remain in ‘Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL)’ for alleged fraud.”
Additionally, on August 19, more than 100 police officers reportedly raided an outdoor family event attended by members of Linfen Covenant House (“Shengyue Jiayuan”) Church in Shanxi province.
“Two preachers, Li Jie and Han Xiaodong have been criminally detained on suspicion of fraud,” CSW said in a statement.
Chinese human rights activists say several members have been summoned and interrogated by criminal investigation officers, who “use all sorts of methods to coerce them to provide witness statements as victims of fraud.”
Scot Bower added: “We welcome the news of Christian author A Xin’s release on bail but are concerned that the CCP is increasing its efforts to crack down on religion and belief groups in the lead up to the Party’s 20th National Congress.”
Bower stressed that CSW had urged China “to end its violations against all religion or belief groups in the country,” including detentions and forms of “forced disappearance.”
He said the international community “must show China that such conduct is unacceptable by raising these and other cases,” including the “UN Human Rights Council.”
While some areas of China have been home to a Christian community since the early 20th century, Chinese authorities have tried to “eliminate influences from Western missionaries” as part of “their campaign to Sinicize religion.”
CSW noted that “many Christians” were detained in recent years.