By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife) -- Two key leaders of China's house church movement who faced the prospect of serving time in a labor camp have been released "on parole" from prison amid international pressure, BosNewsLife learned Saturday, July 14.
Pastors Zhou Jieming and Niu Wenbin were released last week, July 9, a month after they were detained while distributing Bibles and other Christian literature at a market place in China's Shanxi province, according to a parole document released by religious rights group China Aid Association (CAA).
At least 10 other church leaders who were arrested with them tat the marketplace in the province's Jiaocheng county were reportedly released earlier in two groups, on June 9 and June 15. Another active house church Christian in Shanxi, identified as Zhang Qiuxiang, was also released July 9, after ten days' detention, CAA added.
Pastors Zhou Jieming and Niu Wenbin's unexpected release however came after CAA and other Christians expressed concerns that the two could face at least one year "re-education through labor" on charges of "using an evil cult to obstruct" Chinese law.
They recalled that two other house church leaders were sentenced on similar charges to a labor camp last month in Shandong province. A local court, known as the 'Management Committee of the People's Government' of the province's Heze City, said Pastors Hang Geming and Sun Qingwen had been sent to "Re-education through [the] Labor Camp of Jining City," of Shandong province. They began serving the sentence June 29 and were expected to be released June 14, 2008, at the earliest, despite international appeals for their release.
However CAA cautioned it remains concerned about the future of the released Christians in Shanxi province. Several female leaders, who were allegedly abused and beaten by officers of the Public Security Bureau (PSB), one China's main police institutions, are still coping with the aftermath of that experience.
"I am an ordinary Chinese citizen and a Christian who has made up my mind to preach the grace and salvation of Jesus Christ," said Ren Peipei, one of at least five reportedly intimidated women who were held June 9 following the arrests at the market. "I was distributing Gospel flyers and preaching the Good News to the people at a market in Jiaocheng when I was [suddenly] forced into a police vehicle and taken by policemen to the Jiaocheng Public Security Bureau," she said in a statement obtained by BosNewsLife.
Â«While in their custody, policemen yelled at me, threatened me, and told me to write an "honest confession' or they would lock me up..." She said she was forced to witnessed how one male Christian arrested with her, identified as Zhou Jiming, was "punched and kicked."
She and others detained with her were later forced by "a middle-aged policeman" to stand up. When I was exhausted and dozing off due to extreme fatigue, some policemen told me to go to his place for signatures and fingerprinting". Ren also overheard a policeman telling one of his colleagues that they locked "two of our women in a room where other policemen were trying to beat them to death."
THREATENED BY POLICEMAN
A policeman allegedly threatened her and others "by saying this time you only serve five days of detention, but the next time [you] will be send to three years of re-education through labor." Police also confiscated her Bibles, notebooks, a radio and a personal diary "from which they were reading, violating my privacy." After her release on June 15, she and a friend returned to ask police to free pastors Niu Wenbin and Zhou Jiming. "
However, an officer allegedly told her: "I think [they] are not as handsome as me!â€ She suggested it was especially humiliating in her culture to suggest to an unmarried young woman that "it is better to be around with him than the two mentioned [pastors]." Police earlier accused her and other Christians of "cohabitating, both men and women together," which she said was not the truth. Ren Peipei stressed ahs was still afraid to speak about her experience with family members.
Righs watchers and Chinese Christians have linked reports of a crackdown on churches in this and other provinces to concern within the Communist Party of the spread of Christianity in China which it sees as a threat to its atheistic ideology. In addition, officials want the expected influx of foreigners ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics will not lead to an increase of evangelization activities, BosNewsLife learned.
At least over 100 foreign missionaries were reportedly deported this year in one of the largest known expulsions of Christian workers in decades. Chinese Officials have denied human rights abuses, saying Christians are free to worship in the official Protestant and Catholic churches approved by the state. (With BosNewsLife Research and reporting from China).
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