By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)– A young mother who received three years imprisonment for printing Bibles and Christian books in China has been released early, BosNewsLife learned late Wednesday, March 21, but activists said the news is tempered by reports that other Christians were sentenced to a forced labor camp and
other detention centers.
Tian Hongxia, also known as “Sister Tina”, was released “on the eve of Chinese New Year―almost five months early―because the prison had received so many letters from the United States for her,” said Bob Fu, a former Chinese house pastor who now leads the U.S.-based rights group Chinese Aid Association (CAA).
Last year she had to return to the prison, 280 kilometers (175 miles) southwest of Beijing after the birth of her second child to finish serving a three-year sentence, said CAA earlier.
Yet there was concern over several other evangelical Christians held by Chinese authorities.
They include long-time Christian political dissident Zhu Yufu who was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for “subversion of state power” for posting a critical poem on the Internet in 2010, around what became known as the Arab Jasmine Revolution for democracy and freedom in Tunisia
MORE PRISON TERMS
Zhu, who already served two prison terms totaling nine years for his political activism, has appealed the sentence handed out February 10 by the Hangzhou Intermediate Court, CAA said.
Additionally, three Christians of a house church of the China for Christ denomination remained in a forced labor camp Thursday, March 22, after local authorities also destroyed the congregation’s home in the city of Zhuozhou of Hebei province CAA said.
“The detainees’ families have no information about why the three have been sent to the labor camp, how long they will be there, or how they are faring,” the group told BosNewsLife in a statement.
The Christians, identified as Liu Ying, Liu Cuiying and Yang Wenyan, were condemned by officials for organizing meetings considered “illegal” under Chinese law.
“To arbitrarily sentence Christians to labor camp simply because they were peacefully practicing their faith certainly constitutes active religious persecution by the Chinese government,” Fu said.
ANNUAL REPORT RELEASED
In its annual report on religious freedom, CAA said Chinese government “persecution of Christians and churches” had “dramatically worsened” in 2011. “This trend of worsening persecution has persisted for the past six years,” the group said, adding that in 2011 the number of Christians detained for their religious beliefs had soared to almost 132 percent from 2010.
“A new government practice last year was targeting churches and individuals who were significantly impacting society, like Beijing’s Shouwang Church” which was expelled from its rented facilities and has held outdoor services despite massive detentions.
Others detained include “leading legal activists such as constitutional law expert Fan Yafeng, who has been under house arrest since December 2010” and “award-winning human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who disappeared into official custody for 20 months before being sent to a remote prison in far western China in December 2011 to serve a three-year sentence,” CAA’s report said.
The report also highlighted what it called “the worrying increase in the use of torture against detainees” citing a 33.3 percent increase over 2010 “in the number of cases of abuse of all kinds.”
CAA made clear it was encouraged however by the Dutch government’s decision to give the nation’s 2011 Human Rights Defenders Tulip Award to Chinese human rights lawyer Ni Yulan, a Christian.
MOTHER, DAUGHTER BARRED
The prize was given in without her being present, February 1, as the lawyer is in a Chinese prison awaiting trial and her daughter was barred by the Chinese government from traveling to the Netherlands to accept the award on her mother’s behalf.
Ni was nominated for the award by CAA and advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
And, as President Barack Obama and other senior U.S. officials rolled out the red carpet for China’s presumptive next leader, Vice President Xi Jinping, CAA’s and the wives of two imprisoned dissidents were testifying before a Congressional hearing about what they called “China’s human rights abuses and trampling of religious freedoms.”
Gao Zhisheng’s wife, Geng He, and Li Jing, the wife of human rights activist Guo Quan, spoke about their personal experiences of Chinese government persecution, CAA said.
Congressional and religious leaders submitted to President Obama a list of six Chinese prisoners of conscience—including Gao, urging the president to press Xi for their release.
China has consistently denied wrongdoing and says Christians are free to worship within the established churches, though millions prefer to gather outside Communist-government control.