China: House church leaders arrested; one killed in custody

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Gu Xianggao was beaten to death on April 27 while in the custody of Chinese Public Security Bureau (PSB) officers. He was 28 years old.

Gu was a teacher in a controversial house church group known as "Three Grades Servants" in Heilongjiang Province, northeast China. The leader of the group, Xu Shuangfu (also known as Xu Shengguang, which means "holy light"), has been a well-known house church leader since the 1980s. Xu Shuangfu has been arrested more than 20 times, and spent more than 20 years in prison. His group is known for the secrecy of its work, but is believed to have more than 500,000 members.

The PSB in Harbin City, Heilongjiang province, conducted major raids on the group in April, and Gu was one of those arrested April 26th. Xu Shuangfu was also taken into custody.

On April 27th, Harbin city PSB official Hou Naifeng told local police at Gu's hometown in Laiyang city, Shandong province to deliver Gu’s parents to Harbin city PSB offices. There, they were shown their son’s body, which was then immediately cremated. The parents were paid 230,000 RMB (almost 28,000 US$)—a fortune to a Chinese family—then ordered not to tell what had happened.

“This is another tragedy in China,” said Todd Nettleton, spokesman for The Voice of the Martyrs. “No one, no matter their religious background, deserves this kind of treatment. It is time for the world to stand up and take notice of China’s treatment of unregistered religious groups.”

In east-central China, well-known house church leader Zhao Wenquan was arrested May 9 in Hegou Town, Meng Cheng County, Anhui Province.

More than 4000 Christians gathered in the village for a special harvest celebration, sponsored by a six-year-old local house church. The church usually has only 2-300 for gatherings, so the large meeting was quickly noticed by officials.

The Domestic Security Protection Division Team of the Meng Cheng County PSB raided the large gathering. Their first action was to arrest the church watchman, a disabled man. He was later released.

Zhao, who is more than 60 years old, was arrested after the harvest celebration ended. He has been working in China’s unregistered churches for more than 30 years. About a dozen other church leaders escaped and are still on the run.

Zhao has been charged with “disturbing the social order” and with organizing an “illegal religious gathering.” He is believed to be incarcerated at the Meng Cheng County PSB Detention Center. He could be sentenced, without a trial, to three years of so-called “re-education through labor.”

“We encourage Christians around the world to pray for Brother Zhao, and to send polite letters of protest to the Chinese government,” said Nettleton. Letters can be addressed to:

Ambassador Yang Jiechi
Embassy of the People’s Republic of China
2300 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC 20008
Tel:(202) 328-2500 Fax:(202) 588-0032
Director of Religious Affairs: (202) 328-2512