Christians Appeal Labor-Camp Term in China

Saturday, September 25, 2010

By Joseph C. DeCaro

HONG KONG, China (Worthy News)-- A hearing in the trial of two members of a "house church" who appealed after they were both sentenced to labor camp "re-education" resumed Monday in Henan province.

Gao Jianli and Liu Yunhua were initially detained in March for 15 days along with other Full Scope Church members after they refused to pay "fines" to police officers who raided their church. They were given one-year sentences of "re-education through labor" on March 25 and appealed, forcing a public trial, but supporters said they were denied permission to enter the courtroom.

Pastor Zhang Mingxuan, head of the China Association of House Churches, said he was detained by police outside the Intermediate People's Court in Xuchang city.

"I went to the court this afternoon because of the labor camp case involving our brothers," Zhang said. "I was there watching with our brothers and sisters, and plainclothes police from Shangqiu and Xuchang threatened us and stopped us from taking photographs with our cell phones."

"There were nine of us who came, but none of us was allowed in," said Liu Sen, son of defendant Yunhua.

Lawyer Yang Huiwen, who represents Jianli and Yunhua, said refusing to honor visitor passes was against the law.

"Some people were subjected to illegal obstruction by police from Shangqiu city while trying to gain a visitor pass to hear the trial," said Huiwen. He explained that the appeal case was centered around due process, whether correct procedures were followed, and whether there was sufficient evidence to send Jianli and Yunhua for "re-education through labor": an administrative sentence usually handed down without trial for up to three years.

"Our defense was basically that there was no substantive evidence that justified a labor camp sentence, said Huiwen, "and secondly, that this case had no relation to the kinds of cases provided for in the 'Process for Implementing Re-education Through Labor' guidelines. Thirdly, we argued that it was inappropriate to style a Protestant church as an 'evil cult,'" referring to comparisons with the banned Falun Gong group.

"Such criteria cannot therefore be used as a basis for punishment," he said. "In doing so, the authorities have exceeded the limits of executive power."

ChinaAid, an American-based Christian rights group, called on Henan authorities to "uphold justice." On its website, it said police considered the Full Scope Church a cult in part because "church members cry and weep during prayers"!

"We encourage local citizens of conscience to attend the session to show their support," the site said.