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China Court Sets Hearing Date for House Church Leader

A China court has decided to set the third hearing date for prominent house church leader, Zhang Rongliang. The 53-year-old man, imprisoned for the last 16 months, is scheduled to appear Thursday, aft
( [email protected] ) Apr 06, 2006 01:51 AM EDT

A China court has decided to set the third hearing date for prominent house church leader, Zhang Rongliang.

The 53-year-old man, imprisoned for the last 16 months, is scheduled to appear Thursday, after judges ruled he was medically fit for trial.

Zhang, who suffered from diabetes for six years and high blood pressure for four years, has stayed in the hospital since Dec. 19, 2005. While in the hospital, Zhang has been chained to his bed to prevent escape, says Compass Direct, a Christian persecution watchdog.

He was reportedly arrested December 1, 2004, in Henan Province initially without charges. He was later charged with "attaining a passport through cheating" and making an "illegal border crossing."

After his arrest, police confiscated Christian DVDs and other materials from Zhang’s house, allegedly proving that he contacted foreign Christians - which is illegal in China.

Since then, human rights and Christian persecution monitor groups have rallied on the behalf of the ailing house church leader.

Previous to the April 6 court date, Zhang has received two hearings at the people’s court in Xinmi city, Jun. 16 thru Aug. 2, 2005. Xu Zhijun, the chief judge at both hearings, has reassured Zhang’s family that he had no personal grudges against the evangelist, and would judge him fairly according to the law.

Officials later transferred Zhang to a prison in Zhongmu City, about 37 miles (60 km) away from Xinmi without an apparent verdict. By that time, Zhang had been in police custody for 12 months, the maximum sentence for anyone found guilty of using a false passport, Compass Direct says.

"I am really concerned about his health," said Zhang’s wife, Chen Hongxian, as quoted in the Compass Direct report. "This is so unfair. Why are we house church Christians being treated like second-class citizens in our own country?"

Hospital staff have, meanwhile, confirmed that Zhang is also suffering from four other health problems. Zhang’s court appearance comes against the advice of his doctors who asked that he remained in the hospital for treatment.

Zhang's case is not an isolate incident as Chinese authorities have been known to deny passports to well-known house church leaders.

A Life of Serving

Zhang, born in 1950, became a Christian before his 13th birthday. As young boy he often attended Fangcheng fellowship meetings – then led by legendary house church evangelist Li Tianen. In 1969, Zhang was admitted into the Communist Party, though he kept his identity a secret.

His Christian faith was later discovered during the Cultural Revolution in 1974, when a few fellowship elders were pressured into denouncing him. He was later sentenced for seven years at a labor camp for his refusal to renounce his faith.

It was there that he met his close friend and future leader of the Tanghe fellowship, Feng Jianguo. Fangcheng fellowship, where Zhang attended since his youth, was later renamed the Zhang fellowship.

In over three decades of service to God, Zhang Rongliang has been detained 5 times, and jailed for 12 years for his faith.

The Henan-native has been a respected leader from the Fangcheng (China for Christ)fellowship for many years. At one point he was a protégé to Li Tianen whom was also the Fangcheng founder.

Zhang has championed for the religious freedom for unregistered Christian groups, co-authoring the 1999 joint house church statement "Confession of Faith" pleading for clemency during the government’s crackdown against "cult movements."

The Fangcheng fellowship, renamed Zhang in Oct. 2004, reportedly holds a membership between 1 to 10 million strong, though the exact count remains unknown.