By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)– The health of the jailed founder of one of China’s largest evangelical house-church denominations is “rapidly deteriorating” and he may die due to a lack of medical care, his daughter and other Christians confirmed Thursday, July 3.
Pastor Gong Shengliang, who supervises the 100,000- member South China Church (SCC) in several provinces, reportedly suffers of ailments linked to high blood pressure and ‘cerebral infraction’, an ischemic stroke resulting from a blockage in blood vessels supplying blood to the brain.
“But prison authorities have refused to allow a proper medical checkup and adequate treatments,” said the pastor’s daughter Huali Gong in a statement obtained by BosNewsLife.
“Consequently, my father’s illness got worse and worse,” she added. “More than once my father almost fell to the ground” for instance in November, Huali explained.
Health troubles are the latest setback for the pastor, who has been detained in Hubei province since December 2001, when he and four fellow SCC church leaders were convicted and sentenced to death under China’s anti-cult legislation. Eleven other SCC officials received life imprisonment.
Amid international pressure, China dropped the controversial charges of “using a cult to undermine law enforcement” overturning the death sentences and releasing some pastors.
However after a re-trial Gong and the four other Christian leaders initially sentenced to death, Xu Fuming, Hu Yong, Gong Bangkun, and Li Ying, received long prison terms, ranging from 15 years to life imprisonment for “intentional assault”.
Gong was also convicted of “rape”, but his sentence was commuted in 2006 to 19 years in prison.
Christians have linked the alleged trumped-up charges to his work as an effective evangelical leader in the Communist-run Asian nation. His long time in Hubei’s notorious Hankou Prison has added to health concerns, suggested Huali.
While behind bars, the 62-year-old pastor already suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on the left side, unable to speak and drooling from his mouth, according to Christians with close knowledge about the situation.
“When he got a checkup on November 26 2013, the doctor said my father’s illness was very serious. He was having cerebral infraction, and related symptoms known as encephalatrophy, brain lesions and leukoaraiosis, etc,” Huali added.
She said the doctor suggested “a checkup every three months”, but prison officials declined to observe that medical advise, despite family requests. “They said they had one [check up] done on April 17th. But they refused to release the hospital’s medical treatments records and conclusions to neither my father nor the family members.”
Huali claimed the refusal by authorities to cooperate has made it difficult for her father and his family to act. “We are unable to know his condition and cannot provide suitable medicines to him,” his daughter added.
“Previously we could buy some appropriate medicines for him according to his known conditions pieced together from oral communications of diagnosis, after consulting with doctors. Though this didn’t amount to total healing, it was all our family could do for him under the circumstances.”
Huali told BosNewsLife that despite the “inadequate medical treatments” the “prison won’t send him to hospitals outside for necessary treatments and regular checkups, causing further serious damages to his health.”
She accused authorities of violating fundamental human rights. “The prison as law enforcement agency behaves illegally. Effectively, they are directly pushing my gravely ill father to death,” Huali said.
She said she urged the international community to help save her father’s life by supporting the pastor and his family’s rights to see medical records and receive medical treatments.
China’s government has denied wrongdoing, saying it defends religious rights within established churches.
Many of the country’s estimated 130-million Christians prefer to worship outside government control in house churches, including those of the SCC.
Pastor Gong is the third generation of Christians in his family. American Baptist missionaries preached the Gospel to his mother and his maternal grandmother, who were baptized as Christians in the 1920s and 1930s.
“Gong has been a believer of Jesus since childhood and is a devout Christian who loves the Lord. At the age of 17 in 1969 he was called by the Lord to preach the Gospel,” his family said.
Gong, also known as a respected Bible teacher, has been under pressure by authorities for leading people “to repent and turn to God” and founding the SCC “for which he was attacked, persecuted and arrested by the Chinese authorities,” the family added in published remarks.
Yet, his friends have acknowledged that the SCC under Gong’s leadership was at times a source of controversy because of his personal conduct and questions about the orthodoxy of some of his teachings.
After Gong’s imprisonment, some church elders reportedly left the SCC and set up independent churches. However the SCC has continued to meet and accepted the teaching of other, more orthodox pastors, according to Bob Fu, a former house church pastor in China who now leads the U.S.-based China Aid Association, a major advocacy group.
“Regardless of his past moral issues in the church before his imprisonment, Gong should be treated humanely, in accordance with Chinese law and international standards for treatment of prisoners,” said Fu in earlier remarks. He has appealed to Chinese authorities to grant the Gong family’s appeal to provide urgent medical treatment and ensure that the pastor’s two daughters can regularly visit their ailing father.
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