Jiangsu Authorities Order Unregistered Pastor To Serve Two Years of Reeducation Through Labor

November 21, 2011

In late July 2011, authorities in Suqian city, Jiangsu province, ordered pastor Shi Enhao to serve two years in reeducation through labor (RTL) in connection to his activities as an unregistered pastor, including setting up churches and holding gatherings that authorities deemed illegal. Public security authorities in Jiangsu have harassed or detained Shi several times since March 2011. Shi is a leader in a network of unregistered Protestant congregations whose members associate across multiple provinces, and the RTL order came during a time when official sensitivities were heightened toward members of unregistered Protestant congregations.

In late July 2011, authorities in Suqian city, Jiangsu province, ordered unregistered pastor Shi Enhao to serve two years of reeducation through labor (RTL), a form of administrative punishment without trial, according to international media reports dated July 25, 2011, (ChinaAid Association (CAA)) and July 26, 2011, (Associated Press (AP), via Yahoo!; AsiaNews; Radio Free Asia (RFA)). Fellow unregistered pastor Zhang Mingxuan reportedly told RFA that the charges against Shi included "[holding] illegal gatherings" and "[setting up] illegal churches." Such charges appear to violate Articles 18 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Articles 18 and 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which provide for freedom of religion, the freedom to manifest one's belief through, among other things, practice and worship, and freedom of peaceful association. China has signed the ICCPR and has stated that it is preparing to ratify it (National Human Rights Action Plan of China (2009-2010), sec. V(1), via Xinhua). According to the RFA article, Shi's lawyer Zhang Kai said that Suqian public security officials refused to let Zhang visit Shi in custody because the case involved "secrets." Under China's legal framework for state secrets, officials have wide latitude to declare almost any matter of public concern a state secret. Zhang reportedly also said that authorities seized approximately 100,000 yuan (US$15,500) from Shi's church.

Suqian Officials Harass Shi Enhao Several Times Since March

Public security officials in Jiangsu have harassed and detained Shi several times since March 2011 in apparent connection to his activities as an unregistered pastor. According to CAA (7 March 11) and RFA (10 March 11), on March 4, 2011, officials from Suqian disrupted a house church meeting in Nanyang city, Henan province, and detained Shi, who had been preaching at the gathering. Officials held Shi in a hotel and then returned him to his home in Suqian on March 6. According to RFA (6 March 11), however, authorities reportedly instructed him not to travel anywhere during the meetings of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, held later that month. Shi reportedly told RFA that officials hired several unidentified people to prevent him from leaving his home, and some of those people beat him and took money and personal items from him. Sources do not indicate when officials released Shi from home confinement, but according to CAA (15 June 11, 15 June 11), beginning on May 31, 2011, public security officials in Suqian held him in administrative detention for 12 days. Public security officials released him on June 12 but took him into custody again the same day, eventually issuing a criminal detention notice dated June 21. The detention notice, issued by the Sucheng District Public Security Bureau, Suqian (via a July 5, 2011, CAA article), stated that officials suspected Shi of "using superstition to undermine the implementation of the law," which appears to be a reference to Article 300 of China's Criminal Law. In some cases, authorities have detained other unregistered Protestants on suspicion of "cult"-related activity—language that also can be found in Article 300—and authorities often use "cult"-related charges to detain or sentence Falun Gong practitioners (for more information on these issues and related cases, see this October 27, 2010, CECC analysis).

Harassment and Detention Occurs During Time of Sensitivity to Unregistered Protestants

Shi's harassment, detentions, and RTL punishment appear to have occurred during a period of heightened official sensitivity toward unregistered Protestant communities in various locations throughout China (for more information on government actions against these communities, see this July 1, 2011, CECC analysis). Official reports from Suqian indicate that Suqian authorities had begun targeting unregistered Protestant communities several months before Shi's March detention. A December 18, 2010, report from the Suqian Municipal People's Government describes efforts by authorities in Suqian to "focus on improving effective control of 'house church' activities, as well as vigorously reducing the space and frequency of their activities." Another December 18, 2010, report from the Suqian Municipal People's Government describes efforts to work with the 6-10 Office—an extralegal Party organization that implements the ban on Falun Gong and in some cases targets other unregistered religious communities—and the domestic security protection unit of the public security bureau to ban worship gathering sites established outside of government oversight.

Shi reportedly is a vice president of the Chinese House Church Alliance (CHCA), which the Ministry of Civil Affairs banned on November 28, 2008, for "engaging in activities as a social organization on its own initiative, without registering" (see a notice on the China Social Organizations Web site, a Web site owned and operated by the State Administration for the Management of Social Organizations). Authorities appear to have targeted other individuals who had contact with the CHCA in the past year. For example, according to CAA (17 April 11), in April 2011, public security officials in Zaozhuang city, Shandong province, took into custody seven members of a house church, including several leaders, who had had contact with Shi Enhao and Zhang Mingxuan, vice president and president of the CHCA. According to the same report, authorities in Linyi city, Shandong, also reportedly detained two unregistered Protestants who had hosted Zhang Mingxuan during a visit.

For more information about conditions for Protestants in China, see Section II—Freedom of Religion in the CECC 2011 Annual Report.