international protection after receiving death threats, BosNewsLife monitored Thursday, November 24.

US-based religious rights group China Aid Association (CAA) said Gao Zhisheng has issued an open letter after a series of incidents with the secret service. The letter alleges that he, his wife and 12-year-old daughter were threatened by secret service personnel in recent days and closely followed by sometimes over 20 agents.

"At several occasions they were chased so closely by the secret police cars that [Gao’s] own car was struck several times which almost caused a severe accident," CAA said. "When Gao rebuked the agents’ reckless shameless behaviors, he was given a life threat instead," added the organization, which has close ties with persecuted Christians.

Despite the apparent persecution CAA said it learned that "Mr. Gao has recently dedicated himself as a Chinese Christian [and] will be baptized in a house church soon." Gao’s law practice license is about to be revoked by the Beijing Beau of Justice soon, a move religious rights groups criticized as an attempt to halt Gao’s defense work for persecuted Christians.


Amongst other key cases, Gao has been defending Pastor Cai Zhuohua and family members who were sentenced to long prison sentences this month for printing hundreds of thousands of Bibles and other Christian literature.

The 34-year old pastor, who led at least six house churches, received a three year sentenceA Chinese Bible last week November 8 from the People’s Court of Haidian on charges of "illegal business practices" for playing a key role in printing and distributing Bibles and publications such as house church magazine Ai Yan or ‘Love Feast’. 
Pastor Cai’s wife Xiao Yunfei, 33, was sentenced to two years and her brother Xiao Gaowenone, 37, to one and a half years in prison on the same charges


Another Christian advocacy group, UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said it was concerned about the plight of Pastor Cai’s lawyer. "It is very concerning that while the spotlight of international scrutiny and attention is on China’s human rights, she would so overtly target a prominent champion of human rights," said CSW National Director Stuart Windsor. "This is especially so as Mr Gao is seeking to protect the population through the application of China’s law."

Another of Pastor Cai’s lawyers was targeted by the authorities in the context of US President George W, Bush’s visit to China, said Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), another advocacy group. 

"Mr. Zhang Xingshui, a director of the Beijing Jingding Law Firm was warned not to engage in any "unofficial activities" and told to leave Beijing and stay at a verifiable address in Tianjin City, approximately 100 miles (160 kilometers) away," the group claimed.


Others were also forced to leave the capital, CSW said. "The Xuanwu District Public Security Bureau office in Beijing purchased air tickets to Sichuan Province for Beijing house church activist Mr. Hua Huiqi and his evangelist wife Wei Jumei on November 17 in order to avoid any potential contact with President Bush. The couple were allowed to return to Beijing on November 21 but were required to stay in a hotel rather than return to their home."

Another key Christian figure in Beijing, Pastor Zhang Mingxuan, was also removed from the city. Pastor Zhang and his son, Zhang Chuang, were reportedly placed in a car by several security agents from Henan Province and driven away from Beijing on November 18.

They were detained and closely monitored in a government guest hotel in Sheqi County in Henan until President Bush left China, CAA said earlier. Pastor Zhang’s cell phone was removed from him until he was released, according to human rights watchers. He is the leader of the Chinese House Church Association, which consists of over 50 house church leaders from 20 provinces.


The visit of President Bush highlighted the pressure faced by Christian groups in China. During his visit he raised religious freedom issues and attended a church.

On the eve of his visit, the evangelical house church movement South China Church issued an appeal to him to raise their plight with the Chinese authorities. The South China Church said it had been the victim of a harsh religious persecution campaign which it said has seen its leaders imprisoned, tortured, hospitalized and even, in one case, killed.

"A number of leaders were sentenced to death and the cases were only retried after an appeal from the US President," recalled CSW. The letter also asks for concern to be communicated on their behalf and for the cases to be reopened in the Chinese courts. 

"We hope that China will take the opportunity of international exchange to evaluate its policy and practice and bring Chinese law into conformity with international standards on human rights and those who protect them," CSW’s Windsor said in a statement to BosNewsLife.


Reports about an apparent Chinese government crackdown on house church Christians came as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture began a long-awaited visit to China on Monday, November 21.

CSW said it hopes "China will take on board the broad concerns about severe mistreatment of religious believers and others and reform policy and practice to bring them into line with international standards."

China’s government has strongly denied human rights abuses and says it only prosecutes dangerous sects and those violating Chinese laws. It also claims that Christians are free to worship in the two government backed church denominations known as the Protestant Three Self Patriotic Movement with an estimated 12 million members and the Catholic Patriotic Association with about five million members.

Christians groups claim however that most of China’s 80-million Christians gather in ‘underground’ house churches, named this way as they have no permission to operate openly in for instance church buildings.  (With BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos, BosNewsLife Research and reports from China). 


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