Police hold personal journals, identification after Zhang Yinan’s release from prison.
February 17 (Compass) – When Chinese house church historian Zhang Yinan applied for a passport in order to attend a prayer breakfast in Washington this month, police immediately surrounded his house and even followed his wife to the hospital where she works as a nurse.
Zhang, 50, was arrested on September 26, 2003 and imprisoned for two years on charges of “attempting to subvert the national government.” He was released on September 25, 2005, but the Lushan County Police Bureau has retained his personal documents, including his identity card, making it impossible for him to travel.
The only official document Zhang still has is his prison card from the “School of Cultivating Virtues” (a “re-education through labor center”) in Henan.
Police in Henan used Zhang’s personal prayer journals as evidence to accuse him of trying to overthrow the government.
Zhang recently demanded the return of these journals and other documents, but police officer Li Haitao, Zhang’s chief interrogator, refused. When asked for an explanation, Li said he had to continue studying the journals to find any other incriminating evidence against Zhang.
Li was promoted and became director of the Lushan County Domestic Security Protection Group after his successful prosecution of Zhang in 2003.
Upon his release, Zhang wrote an open letter to thank Christians worldwide who had prayed for him and helped his family during his imprisonment. At the end of the letter, he quoted from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech I Have a Dream to describe his new found freedom: “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
Zhang soon realized that his freedom was only partial. Without an identity card, he could not use public transport, stay in a hotel or leave the province.
When Zhang asked for the return of his ID card, however, Li said it was not among the confiscated items.
In December 2005, Zhang received an invitation to attend the 56th National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. After Zhang went to the police station to apply for a passport, the police surrounded his apartment and Zhang’s wife was constantly shadowed. Police not only followed her to her hospital workplace, but into an operating room where she was assisting doctors with surgery.
An estimated 50 to 60 policemen were assigned to a 24-hour surveillance of Zhang’s house until the prayer breakfast began on February 2.
Later, some of the police on duty told Zhang that they had no choice but to follow orders from higher authorities.
As this surveillance coincided with the Chinese New Year holiday, Zhang called Li and asked him to allow some of the policemen who were standing in the freezing weather to go home to their families; he promised he would not leave the apartment. Li said it was beyond his authority to make that decision.
Zhang Dangyi, Li’s predecessor, was originally the chief investigator of Zhang’s case. After much study of Zhang’s prayer journal, he concluded that, “Zhang Yinan might be thinking something that he shouldn’t be thinking at this time, but clearly he has no criminal action at all.” He suggested that Zhang be released without charges, but Henan authorities responded by giving his position to Li, who had a reputation for mistreating house church believers in the region.
Police are still withholding Zhang’s identity papers, but he is determined to continue traveling and ministering to house church believers. “I am called by God to be an evangelist,” Zhang says. “No matter how long and hard the winter is, it will eventually pass.”
As he once wrote from prison to his son, “From Wang Mingdao’s arrest in August 1955 until today, Chinese house church preachers have been imprisoned continuously. But the Lord has raised up lilies among the thorns.”
Zhang added, “Our Lord Jesus loves China, and He allows one generation after another to endure the suffering and go through many kinds of trials so that we may be built up in Him.”