By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)– A Chinese pastor was free Saturday, May 8, after being released early from a labor camp, but authorities apparently detained again another Christian and well-known human rights lawyer.
Pastor Dou Shaowen, who was sentenced to one year of re-education through labor on June 14, 2009, was released early from detention on April 17, his supporters said.
He was reportedly arrested after government officials forcibly abolished and sealed up his house church in Zhengzhou city of Henan province. Rights activists say he lost 38 pounds due to “the extreme conditions” he faced in the camp, including being forced to work 18 hours a day and sleeping in a room with over 70 other prisoners.
His release came as new details emerged that Gao Zhisheng, a leading Christian rights lawyer, vanished once again, raising fears that he has returned to secret detention at the hands of Chinese state security officers.
The attorney spent much of the past five years behind bars or under surveillance. He made world headlines when he was seized from his home in Shaanxi Province in February last year and held in detention by security officials for 13 months at an unknown location.
Gao was permitted to phone family members and colleagues in late March before officials finally returned him to his Beijing apartment on April 6.
In mid-April Gao was eventually allowed to fly to the city of Urumqi in western China, where he met with his father-in-law, his friends and family said.
Bob Fu, a Chinese pastor who now lives in the United States, said he believes Gao has returned to some form of captivity.
“His father-in-law said he stayed overnight at his home and was accompanied by four to five security agents,” said Fu who helped Gao’s family flee China last year.
Christians have linked the latest detention to comments he made to reporters after his return. At a press conference held in a Beijing tea-house in April, Gao said he wanted to be reunited with his family, who fled to the United States in January 2009. He said he no longer had the strength to continue his legal work, but added that he could not comment on the treatment he received while in captivity.
Gao was involved in religious rights issues that raised eyebrows among China’s Communist Party officials. Other Christians in China are also behind bars in the communist-run nation. They include Uyghur Christian Alimjan Yimit who was able to meet his family for the first time last month after more than two years imprisonment, well-informed Chinese Christians said.
Alimjan Yimit, whose name is also spelled as Alimujiang Yimiti, was detained by security forces and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment on charges that included “leaking state secrets” and illegal religious activities. Rights groups and diplomats say he was targeted for his work as a house church leader.
Authorities in Xinjiang Province recently moved the ex-Muslim from a prison in Kashgar to a prison in the provincial capital Urumqi where they reportedly allowed a rare family visit.
“The Xinjiang Kashgar Prison authorities allowed the Uyghur Christian prisoner to meet with his wife, children, mother, and sister for a brief 15 minute conversation, the first personal contact the family has had with Alim” since in detention in January, 2008, said China Aid Association (CAA) an advocacy group monitoring the case.
“Alim’s mother was extremely emotional” during the April 20 meeting, CAA added. “She encouraged her son to be strong, and Alimujiang in turn comforted her. His spirit seemed strong, and he encouraged his wife and children, “Be strong and take heart! I know that this is God’s training for me’.”
Alim’s 10-year-old son apparently expressed mixed emotions during the visit. He said he was thankful to see his father after two years and three months of separation, but was greatly discouraged that his father was still stuck “in that place,” unable to return home with them, explained CAA, which has close contacts with the family.
“His wife, Gulinuer, has watched her son pray for Alimujiang every night, “asking God to deliver him from prison and bring him home”, CAA added. “‘Despite the pain, she remains thankful that her son’s faith is strong.”
His lawyers, who have appealed the case, were reportedly prevented from meeting their client.
The European Union, United States and United Nations have expressed concerns about the case. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has described Yimiti’s detention as “arbitrary” and urged China to “correct” the situation.
China’s government denies violating religious rights, saying it allows Christians to freely worship within state-approved churches. Yet, many of China’s estimated 130 million Christians prefer to gather outside government-control, according to church groups.