U.S. pastor among ChinaAid top 10 persecution cases

MIDLAND, Texas (BP) -- A Virginia pastor interrogated and evicted from China during a discipleship seminar he led in the nation is among ChinaAid's top 10 cases of Christian persecution there in 2017.

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Wang Zhiyong, senior pastor of Grace Christian Church in Herndon, Va., was interrogated for four hours and ordered to immediately leave China after police interrupted his "Religious Reformation and Life Transition" seminar in Guangdong in April 2017, the religious freedom watchdog group ChinaAid said in its report.

Police registered the identifications of all in attendance, more than 140 Chinese house church pastors, and confiscated several hundred copies of printed materials used in the seminar.

Each case on the top 10 list represents either an individual person or an amalgam of several cases grouped into a specific category of persecution, ChinaAid said. In the case of Wang, ChinaAid grouped his case with two other foreign Christians who were persecuted in Henan, Guangdong and Fujian provinces for their religious, academic and church-related activities. The case of the foreign Christians ranked 10th on the list, representing the least oppressive instance of persecution.

"I have no basic right to freedom of religion," Wang said on Facebook of the incident after he arrived safely in Malaysia. He has returned to his pastorate, which is in the Presbyterian Church in America.

In January, ChinaAid President Bob Fu said religious freedom in communist China is at its harshest in 50 years and is "increasingly deteriorating" under Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Lengthy imprisonments with torture stemming from false charges; denial of medical aid to prisoners; house imprisonment of pastors, their families and civil rights attorneys defending them; government destruction of churches and church property; denial of legal representation; and government monitoring and church surveillance are included in the persecution cases ChinaAid deemed most egregious in the list released Feb. 1.

"Each case has been thoughtfully investigated in collaboration with local house churches, corroborated through direct interviews with victims and family members, and verified by secondary sources," the Midland, Texas-based group said in releasing its report. "These cases are considered representative due to the severity, impact and significance of persecution involved, and they occurred across mainland China in both the rural and urban areas, and included both house churches and 'Three Self' (government sanctioned) churches."

Topping the list is the Yunnan Religious Case, in which hundreds of church leaders and members were accused of "utilizing cults to undermine law enforcement," with the Holy Bible, hymns and many prayer and discipleship books including "Streams in the Desert" labeled as "cult materials." At least three pastors have been sentenced to four years' imprisonment on charges stemming from the case, and other trials are pending or ongoing, ChinaAid said.

Ranking second on the persecution list, more than 50 Christians worshipping in Xinjiang were charged with "the crime of gathering a crowd to disrupt social order." In April, five of those arrested were sentenced to prison terms ranging from three years to five years for disturbing social order, ChinaAid said, when the Christians were only hosting religious activities at their homes.

Among other persecution cases on the list, famous Christian political dissident Yang Tianshui died of cancer in November while serving a 12-year prison term for "subverting state power." Prison authorities delayed Yang's treatment until it was too late for him to receive medical care that might have saved his life, according to ChinaAid. His body was cremated hastily and the government confiscated his ashes, spreading them in the East China Sea.

In other cases on the list, pastors were prosecuted for conducting disaster relief ministry to earthquake survivors; the government confiscated millions of dollars in tithes, offerings and building fund contributions; and lawyers representing persecuted pastors were interrogated and placed under house arrest, as were their families.

The full report is available at ChinaAid.org.

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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