Authorities Raid Unregistered Church in Shanxi, Beat and Detain Leaders

December 7, 2009

Since mid-September 2009, authorities in Shanxi province have forcefully suppressed a local unregistered Protestant congregation through beatings and detention of church leaders and demolition of the church facility. Several church leaders have since been sentenced to prison terms or ordered to serve reeducation through labor. National regulations on religious affairs require Protestant groups and other recognized religious communities to register with the government and affiliate with a "patriotic religious organization" that oversees their affairs on behalf of the government. Many refuse to register, as registered congregations are subject to state monitoring of church members, interference in clergy appointments, mandatory political study sessions for pastors, and restrictions on theology and topics for preaching. Police raids against unregistered congregations and forced closure and demolition of their churches persist in many localities.

In the early morning hours on September 13, 2009, Fushan county authorities in Shanxi province led over 400 public security officers in a violent raid against an unregistered Protestant church called the Shanxi Linfen Christian Church, according to eyewitness accounts reported by ChinaAid on September 15, AsiaNews Italy (ANI) on September 17, and Radio Free Asia (RFA) on September 21. The raid lasted for several hours and reportedly involved the use of two bulldozers to raze the factory building that served as a meeting place for the church. Linfen municipal officials characterized the raid as an effort to "ban illegal buildings," according to the RFA report.

Police conducting the raid reportedly used force against members of the congregation who were sleeping in the building at the time. One eyewitness indicated that police used blunt instruments such as bricks, iron bars, and garden hoes to strike church members (ChinaAid, 9/15 and 11/13). At least 100 individuals were wounded in the raid, several lost consciousness, more than 10 were described as "bleeding heavily," and several required hospitalization (ChinaAid 9/15; ANI, 9/17). The raid reportedly reduced the building to rubble, and police destroyed, and in some cases confiscated, various other kinds of church property (ANI, 09/17). Eyewitnesses told ChinaAid on October 18 that a force of 80 police officers and 10 police cars continue to guard the former church site to prevent the congregation from accessing the area.

Authorities have detained several members and leaders of the Linfen Christian congregation in the weeks following the raid and taken punitive measures against another unregistered church in the area. According to ChinaAid reports from September 22 and October 18, public security officials seized a young church member named Shan Yongchang on September 17 and held him in detention for 23 days for sending text messages describing the raid to friends and family living outside the area. On September 25, local authorities detained pastors Wang Xiaoguang and his wife Yang Rongli, along with at least six other church leaders for attempting to petition central government authorities for redress. On October 11, public security officials reportedly raided the homes of several church members, leading to the detention of an additional 10 members (ChinaAid, 10/18). A few days after the raid, authorities disconnected the electricity, water supply, and telephone services to the Jindeng Church in apparent retaliation for assistance it provided to victims of the raid against Linfen Christian Church (ChinaAid, 9/22). Members of the Linfen Christian Church remain under constant police surveillance. Officials have reportedly intervened to prevent adult church members from receiving wages due to them and barred their children from attending school (ChinaAid, 11/13).

Local officials have targeted Pastor Yang Rongli for the most severe treatment, and according to the October 10 Detention Notice (via ChinaAid, 11/13), authorities have formally charged her with "illegally occupying agricultural land and gathering a mob to disturb traffic." On September 27, the Linfen Municipal Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs issued an official statement outlining the alleged "illegal activities" that Yang had engaged in. Among other things, Yang was accused of having "illegally held religious activities" and "illegally shared the Gospel" with youth. On November 2, a judge from the Linfen Municipal Intermediate Court reportedly instructed the families of five church leaders in detention, including Yang's husband, to obtain counsel quickly for an upcoming trial, according to a November 13 ChinaAid report. However, authorities have prohibited attorneys from seeing Yang and transferred her to the Taiyuan Municipal Detention Center in the capital of Shanxi province (ChinaAid, 11/13). ChinaAid reported on November 25 that the Yaodu District People's Court tried Yang and Wang Xiaoguang, along with three other church leaders, on November 25, and sentenced them that day. Yang was sentenced to seven years in prison for "illegally occupying farm land" and "gathering a mob to disturb traffic." Wang Xiaoguang, Yang Xuan, and Cui Jiaxing received sentences of three years, three and a half years, and four and a half years, respectively, for the first charge, and Zhang Huamei received a four-year sentence for the second charge. In addition, authorities ordered church leaders Li Shuangping, Yang Hongzhen, Yang Caizhen, Gao Qin, and Zhao Guoai to serve two years of reeducation through labor on November 30, according to a December 1 ChinaAid report. Authorities said the five people had "gathered people to disturb public order" after they organized a prayer rally on September 14.

Two official reports posted in August 2009 on the Web site of the Linfen Municipal People's Government foreshadowed the crackdown against unregistered churches, as the reports featured statements from top Communist Party leaders calling for tighter control of religious activities. According to one of the reports, dated August 18, Ding Wenlu, the local head of the Party's United Front Work Department, inspected the municipality's religious affairs work on June 16 and urged officials to recognize the "high degree of political sensitivity" surrounding their work. Ding issued a "clear demand" that officials must "pay close attention to… and promptly dispose of…illegal religious activities according to the law." At a government meeting on "safeguarding stability" held in Linfen on June 25, reported in an August 18 article, Xie Hai, the Secretary of the Municipal Party Committee, emphasized the need to "strengthen management of religious and ethnic affairs work," which he characterized as "having extraordinarily important significance for safeguarding the overall stability of the entire city." Xie called for officials to "go a step further to strengthen punishment of illegal religious activities and strike hard against those who wear the cloak of religion and use religion to conduct various divisive sabotage activities."

For more information on the government's suppression of unregistered Protestant churches in particular and its regulation of religion more broadly, see Section II―Freedom of Religion―Protestantism in the CECC's 2009 Annual Report.