High Profile Prisoner Released, but Others Arrested in China

Friday, August 18, 2000

by Alex Buchan

HONG KONG (Compass) -- Zhang Rongliang, also known as David Zhang, is at large in China despite receiving a three-years' hard labor sentence in December 1999. Reliable reports from central China say he was able to buy himself out of jail. But Born Again movement leader Xu Yongze remains incarcerated, despite having completed his three-year sentence on March 15, and 10 more house church leaders were arrested in southeast China in May.

David Zhang and 38 house church leaders in southern Henan province were rounded up in August 1999. Most were released, but six were sentenced to between one and three years' hard labor. Yet Zhang is at large, having bought himself out of jail for an unknown sum. Some of the others sentenced are also at large, including Zhen Shuqian and Feng Jianguo.

"The Henan prison system is notoriously corrupt, and they quite like to receive money to let Christians out, since officials keep the money themselves," said a Henan Christian leader.

Sources also said that Zhang was not regarded by the government as dangerous, but "merely misled." Zhang comes from a charismatic house church movement that has its mother church in Fancheng city, in southern Henan.

One figure definitely regarded as "dangerous," however, is Xu Yongze, the leader of the Born Again house church movement. Privately, officials inside China have let it be known that they would love to arrange for him to leave the country. Said a senior leader of the movement, "They would like him to live outside China, where they think he will do less harm."

The Born Again movement is regarded by Chinese officials as a cult, although many house church Christians say the emphasis on emotional contrition, which has earned them the nickname, "weepers," is an extreme rather than heretical doctrine.

According to the Voice of the Martyrs, at least 10 house church leaders in the city of Huadu, Guangdong province, were arrested in mid May in an apparent push to resolve a six-month standoff with a local evangelist, Li Dexian. Dexian has been arrested 14 times as police detain him for short periods, preventing him preaching in a local house church.

In addition, Newsroom reported on May 26 that two Beijing house church leaders, Wang Li Gong, 34, and Yang Jing Fu, 36, are serving terms of a year and one and one-half years in labor camps for organizing illegal religious meetings.

The Roman Catholic news agency, Fides International, also reported the sentencing of Fr. Jiang Sunian, an underground priest working near Wenzhou, Zhejiang province. Fr. Jiang was given a six-year jail sentence on May 25 for printing Bibles and other religious literature without official permission.

Crackdowns on unregistered Christian activity are rarely country-wide, although the Communist Party does frown on all meetings that are not organized under the control of its state churches.

Ye Xiowen, the head of the Religious Affairs Bureau, which oversees religious activity in China, recently warned in the May 17 "Guangming" Daily that China "... will face enemy forces from both domestic and international sources using religion to penetrate Chinese society and engage in activities of splitting China."

He followed up his chilling Cold War rhetoric with a pledge to increase the Party's control of religious affairs and "redirect the religions toward the adaptation of the socialistic society."

Copyright © 2000 Compass Direct News Service.
Used with permission.