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China Court Hearing Set For Prominent House Church Leader

Thursday, April 6, 2006 | Tag Cloud

By BosNewsLife News Center

BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife) -- An influential Chinese house church leader was to appear Thursday, April 6, for a potentially decisive court hearing after over 16 months in police custody, a Christian news agency reported.

Zhang Rongliang, 55, was arrested by Henan police on December 1, 2004 and only months later was charged with "attaining a passport through cheating" and with "illegal border crossing."

Chinese authorities often deny passports to well-known house church leaders, human rights groups say. Health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure have grown worse while he was in custody, added Compass Direct.

He reportedly spent most of his time in hospital since December 19, 2005, but Chinese officials apparently believe he is well enough to stand trial.

Previously Zhang had been detained five times and spent a total of 12 years in prison for his religious activities. "This will be his third hearing," a co-worker was quoted as saying under condition of anonimity. "This time I hope the court can make an independent decision based on truth and justice."

"CHINA FOR CHRIST"

Zhang is a key leader of the China for Christ house church movement, formerly known as Fangcheng. During a court hearing in 2005, Zhang said the movement had 10 million members, but other estimate the real number at 1 million.

Zhang co-authored a joint house church "Confession of Faith," written in 1999, to plead for clemency during a widespread government crackdown against "cult" movements.

Following his arrest, authorities confiscated Christian DVDs and other materials from Zhang’s house that allegedly linked him with foreign Christians. Contact with foreign co-religionists can constitute illegal activity in China, Compass Direct said.

A few of Zhang’s relatives and church members were allowed to attend two court hearings in the People’s Court of Xinmi city on June 6 and August 2, 2005.

NO PERSONAL GRUDGE

Xu Zhijun, the chief judge at these hearings, later told Zhang’s family that he had no personal grudge against Zhang and that he would judge his case fairly according to the law. But four months later, in December 2005, officials suddenly transferred Zhang to a prison in Zhongmu city, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) away from Xinmi.

By that time, Zhang had been held in police custody for 12 months. Although a verdict had not yet been issued, he had already served the maximum sentence for anyone found guilty of using a false passport, Compass Direct said.

A government official reportedly said local authorities were displeased with an impending decision by the People’s Court of Xinmi to dismiss all charges and release Zhang. “I am really concerned about his health," added Zhang’s wife, Chen Hongxian, in a recent interview. “This is so unfair. Why are we house church Christians being treated like second-class citizens in our own country?”

She said she hopes Thursday's hearing will bring a positive resolution. "I hope my husband can come home soon, so that I can take good care of his health."

NO ISOLATED INCIDENT

This is not an isolated incident, church watchers say. Chinese house church historian Zhang Yinan, who was released last September 2005 after two years in jail, was denied a passport to travel to Washington for the 65th National Prayer Breakfast. He had served two years on charges of "attempting to subvert the national government" for his efforts to document the conditions of Chinese house churches.

He reportedly noted that the government grants passports to Chinese Muslims for pilgrimages to Mecca but denies them to many house church leaders. Civil authorities have rejected passport applications from several other top leaders of the China for Christ house church movement.

One of them is Han Yongqin, a co-worker of imprisoned pastor Zhang Rongliang since the 1980s. A few months ago, when her daughter applied for a passport for overseas study, the police allegedly asked her to bring her mother in for questioning.

"I just don’t understand the logic here," Compass Direct quoted Han as saying. "Pastor Zhang and I have been on the blacklist for many years. But why should the police pick on our children?" Chinese house church leaders said that so far the government has refused to discuss its passport policies towards house churches. Most of China's estimated up to 80-million Christians are estimated to attend house churches, which are outside the state sanctioned denominations.

The Chinese government has denied human rights abuses, saying Christians are free to worship within the law and that police only cracksdown on sects deemed dangerous for society. (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from China).

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Worthy Christian News » Christian Persecution » China » China Court Hearing Set For Prominent House Church Leader