Pastor Cai Zhuohua, his wife and brother-in-law are sentenced.
by Sarah Page
DUBLIN, November 15 (Compass) – Beijing authorities on November 4 ordered a Chinese legal firm to suspend activities for a year, hours after top lawyer Gao Zhisheng filed court documents in defense of Pastor Cai Zhuohua.
Four days later, Cai and three family members were convicted of “illegal business practices.”
State security officers arrested Cai on September 11, 2004, following a raid on a church warehouse containing over 237,000 privately printed copies of the Bible and other Christian literature.
His wife, Xiao Yunfei, was arrested on October 4, 2004, while her brother, Xiao Gaowen, and sister-in-law, Hu Jinyun, were arrested on September 27 of that year, according to a China Aid Association (CAA) report.
A government permit is required for all Chinese publications. The new Regulations on Religious Affairs – brought into effect on March 1, 2005 – strengthened the ban on illegal religious publications and increased the penalty for printing or distributing religious books without prior government approval.
Cai, who led six Beijing house churches, claimed the books were printed for free distribution within house church networks, but authorities accused Cai and other church members of running the warehouse as a profit-making venture.
The four were held for 10 months before the case finally went to trial on July 7. Defense lawyers acknowledged that the literature was printed without permission but argued that the defendants could not be charged with “economic crimes” since the Bibles were not intended for sale.
Judge You Tao found three of the defendants guilty as charged. Cai, 34, was sentenced to three years, his wife Xiao Yunfei, 33, to 2 years and her 37-year-old brother to 18 months. The judge, however, announced that Hu Jinyun, charged with “storing illegal goods,” had escaped punishment by providing evidence against her sister-in-law, Reuters reported.
Cai’s mother, Cai Laiyi – now caring for Cai’s 5-year-old son – told Reuters that the prosecution had not found a single witness to testify that Cai had earned money from the sale of the books.
Reuters also quoted Ye Xiaowen, director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA), who told a Beijing-funded Hong Kong newspaper that Cai had illegally printed 40 million copies of the Bible and other Christian books, and then sold 2 million of these for profit.
No evidence has been found to support this statement.
Ye also insisted that the case had nothing to do with religious persecution, but in the same interview he said that religion was a “point of penetration through which Western anti-China forces seek to Westernize and disintegrate China.”
Following their conviction, Cai, Xiao Yunfei and Xiao Gaowen had just 10 days to file an appeal, a difficult endeavor in light of the order that their law firm suspend all activities.
Gao, one of eight lawyers who volunteered to defend Cai free of charge, said he would challenge the suspension order.
The order followed several visits this year from officials encouraging Gao to drop “politically sensitive” cases, The Washington Post reported on November 6.
The verdict came just two weeks before U.S. President George W. Bush’s scheduled visit to China on November 19-21. Bush told reporters at a press briefing on November 9 that he would raise religious freedom issues with President Hu Jintao and other government officials during his stay.
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department on November 8 included China on its list of “Countries of Particular Concern,” the nations designated as top violators of religious freedom.
HOW MANY BIBLES ARE NEEDED IN CHINA?
Cai Zhuohua’s sentencing and Ye Xiaowen’s statements raise questions about the demand for Bibles in China. At a forum of Christian organizations held in Colorado Springs in February, the Rev. Cao Shengjie, president of the China Christian Council (CCC), insisted that the government-approved Amity Printing Company produces enough Bibles to meet the demand of the growing Chinese church.
When questioned, Cao said approximately 100,000 to 200,000 Bibles were held in reserve in the Amity Press warehouse at any one time, “depending on the demand” for that year, with an average of “about 2.5 million” printed every year.
Cao also said that Amity Press had printed 40 million Bibles since 1987; but it was not clear what percentage of the total were Chinese Bibles. Cao acknowledged that the figure included some Bibles printed for export in foreign languages.
Last year, the company printed 3.4 million Bibles destined for mainland China, a new record. A further 2 million Bibles were printed for distribution outside China, according to an Asia Opportunity report.
CCC officials also claimed there were only 16 million members in the registered Protestant church but admitted that the figure did not include baptized members and “could” be as high as 32 million.
Organizations working in China say the total figure – including both Protestant and Catholic, registered and unregistered Christians – is well over 80 million. Some estimate that as many as 30,000 Chinese become Christians every day, or approximately 1 million a year. The numbers are impossible to verify; but if accurate, they indicate a huge demand for Bibles.
Copyright 2005 Compass Direct