China: Bookstore Owner Due to Appear in Court

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Police place Shi Weihan’s family, lawyer under constant surveillance.

DUBLIN (Compass Direct News) -- Christian bookstore owner Shi Weihan, detained in a Chinese prison without his medication for diabetes, is due in court Thursday (June 19) to face as yet unspecified charges.

As Shi’s health deteriorates, friends say his wife and two daughters are suffering extreme emotional distress as they are forbidden to visit or pass on the much-needed medication.

Police initially arrested Shi on November 28, 2007, charging him with “illegal business practices,” but officials ordered his release on January 4, citing insufficient evidence. Shi was arrested again on March 19 and police have held him virtually incommunicado, denying all but one visit from his lawyer, and refusing family visits.

Shi’s store, located near the Olympic Village, operated legally and sold only books for which he had obtained government permission. Under his Holy Spirit Trading Co., Shi printed Bibles and Christian literature without authorization for distribution to local house churches, according to Asia Times Online.

Last January, his wife Zhang Jing told the news service that Shi was concerned about publishing the unauthorized books but felt the risk was worth taking because churches needed them.

Family, Lawyer Under Surveillance

According to Compass sources, police have placed Shi’s wife and their two daughters under constant surveillance, following Zhang even when she takes the girls to school.

Zhang has asked several times for permission to visit her 37-year-old husband and to pass on medication and changes of clothes, but police have refused; she is now suffering from depression. Her daughters cry often and are sometimes afraid to go to school because of taunts from other children.

Police are also monitoring the movements of Shi’s lawyer, sources said, to ensure that he makes no contact with foreign human rights groups. Officers have justified the surveillance by telling the lawyer that they are “protecting” him to ensure that his work is not interrupted.

After Shi’s lawyer visited him on April 23, prison guards moved him from the Beijing Municipal Detention Center to an unknown location. When questioned, officials at the Beijing detention center would only say that Shi was no longer there.

There is some speculation that officials have charged Shi with distributing illegal publications, but sources said this is unlikely as materials confiscated from his Christian bookstore were all returned and the store was allowed to re-open.

Shi’s friends, both local and foreign, insist that he is an honest citizen with an “infectious” love for China.

A foreign businessman who worked with Shi and considered him a friend told Compass that Shi was grateful to the Chinese government for granting permission to openly publish and sell Christian literature.

The government may have mistaken Shi for a religious zealot, the source said, but “Shi believes Christians should work toward a more fair and harmonious society in China.”

Copyright © 2008 Compass Direct News