By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife) -- A prominent Christian prisoner in China was still suffering from recent beatings Saturday, June 3, as Chinese authorities have refused to give him proper medical treatment, his family and investigators said.
China Aid Association (CAA), a US-based religious rights group, said South China Church leader Gong Shengliang, 50, has been beaten in recent months in Hong Shan prison in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province.
“The right side of Gong's face is still swollen. According to his sister, Gong could not move his mouth for three days, and he suffered some hearing loss in his right ear,” said CAA, which investigates reports of persecution.
CAA said it has learned that a fellow prisoner, identified only as Lei, was encouraged by prison guards to beat the Christian and watch Gong day and night.
His latest injuries were apparently first discovered by the outside world April 18 when Pastor Gong's eldest sister, Gong Shuqin, and his younger sister, Gong Shuzhen, went to Hong Shan prison to visit him. They “found that the right side of Gong's face was swollen,” following the beatings several weeks earlier on March 21.
Months later Gong seriously suffers “both physically and spiritually,” CAA added. The group said that prisoner who beat Gong “did not receive any punishment, on the contrary, he was praised from the prison officer…Gong was punished by subtracting two ‘merit points’ he had gained last year,” which could lead to better treatment or an early release .
"When Gong appealed to the prison leader and asked to have the prisoner who had beaten him transferred to another group, the prison leader refused and only had the prisoner apologize to settle the matter."
A request by Gong's eldest sister, Gong Shuqin, to have a "family dinner" with Gong, was refused by the prison authority and she was given only ten minutes to speak with him, CAA alleged. Christian books sent to Gong have been banned, a move CAA claimed “deprived Gong of his right of freedom of faith in prison."
Gong's family had not heard from him for more than a year as his letters were allegedly withheld by prison authorities who “even threatened to deny the visit by Gong Shuqin,” CAA said "You are only a younger sister of the prisoner, we have right to reject your request of visit," she was allegedly told.
This was not an isolated incident, Christian and secular investigators said. In June 2003, Gong reportedly experienced a similar treatment in Jingzhou Prison, where he was allegedly beaten unconscious and nearly deafened in his left ear. “He was apparently in a coma for several days after one beating. Gong was reportedly beaten ‘for professing his faith, for refusing to admit guilt and for requesting an appeal against his verdict’," human rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI) said at the time.
He "lay there half-dead with no medical care. After heavy protest by the international community, he was transferred to the current prison," CAA recalled.
Gong Shengliang and four others were originally sentenced to death in December 2001 in connection with their membership of the "Huanan” or South China Church (SCC) which was banned in April that year. They were sentenced on charges including "using an evil cult to undermine the implementation of the law."
Human rights groups claim that the convictions were based on evidence obtained through torture. Three female defendants in the same case said they were tortured by police to make them confess to having had sexual relations with Gong Shengliang, who was also convicted of rape.
They said they were shackled, whipped and kicked, and beaten on their chests with electro-shock batons. In October 2002, the death sentences were commuted to long prison
terms, including life imprisonment for Gong Shengliang, after a retrial was ordered because of "insufficient evidence and unclear facts".
While some Christians have questioned some of Gong’s teachings and reports of revenge attacks by some church members, CAA stressed it has become clear that the Chinese government is to blame for the situation.
"The Bible teaches Christians to love others as ourselves and even to love our enemies, anyone whose actions are contrary to these teachings should take spiritual, moral and legal responsibility," said Rev. Bob Fu, a former ‘underground’ house church pastor, in a statement to BosNewsLife.
However "we [also] urge the Chinese government to hold those authorities accountable in accordance with the law, to respect the constitutional rights of the prisoners by allowing Mr. Gong to receive necessary medical treatment," added Fu, who leads CAA.
Analysts have linked attacks against Gong and other SCC members to concern among Communist authorities over the spread of Christianity in China.
The SCC is a network of house-church groups, with an estimated 100,000 members. Over 1500 SCC leaders have reportedly been arrested in recent years, as the government attempts to eradicate what it sees as an “illegal” group and "evil cult."
Chinese authorities have defended the crackdown but deny any wrongdoing. They say China’s estimated 80-million Christians are free to worship in the official churches. But human rights groups say most believers prefer to gather in homes, as they regard the official churches as closely linked to the Communist government. (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from China).
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