Relaymedia

China's Arrest of Christian Bookstore Owner Brought International Attention

( [email protected] ) Dec 19, 2007 12:37 PM EST
An owner of a Christian bookstore in Beijing was arrested by the Public Security Bureau since Nov. 28. His wife said that he broke no laws and sold only legally sanctioned religious material, according to a report on Dec. 14 by USA Today.
Customers at Shi Weihan's Holy Spirit Bookstore in Beijing find mostly empty shelves after police raided it Nov. 28. By Calum MacLeod, USA TODAY

An owner of a Christian bookstore in Beijing was arrested by the Public Security Bureau since Nov. 28. His wife said that he broke no laws and sold only legally sanctioned religious material, according to a report on Dec. 14 by USA Today.

Businessmen Shi Weihan was arrested because of his faith and refusal to register their unapproved “house church” with authorities, USA Today reported Zhang Jin, 37, as saying.

Shi’s case has drawn international attention and is condemned by overseas Christian organizations. His arrest makes it more difficult to convince China’s critics of its vows to improved condition of religious tolerance and freedom as it prepares for the upcoming Olympics.

In a letter statement released by US-based China Aid Association (CAA), Shi was visited by his lawyer for the first time on Dec. 14 at this detention center after much pressures from the international community; furthermore, prison doctors started to deliver medicine on a daily basis to treat Shi’s diabetes. Until the 12th day of this detention, his family members were informed of his detention although there is still no indication of what the charges against him will be. The notice is legally required within 24 hours of a detention.

According to USA Today, Shi founded the Holy Spirit Bookstore in a north Beijing office tower in March 2006. Shi converted to Christianity more than a decade ago and began an informal "house church" called the Antioch Eternal Life Church.

Each Sunday, 20 to 30 worshipers meet in a room next to the store, Zhang says.

"The government only wants people to worship in registered churches, but we prefer the freedom and comfort of our own place. If we register, the government would supervise us and demand reports on speakers and all attendees," she says.

Indicating their innocense, Zhang said that even though “everything we sell is copyrighted and has a legal bar code” police still confiscated more than 1,000 books and other religious literatures, reported by USA Today.

Last Sat. the Chinese government has announced that the only state-authorized Christian publisher, Amity Printing, has printed its 50 millionth Bible since 1986. At the ceremony marking this milestone, Ye Xiaowen, top religious affairs official, said China “respects and protects religious freedom,” China’s state-run media reported Ye as saying.

Last month, government officials had to defend alleged reports of its banning of Bibles from the Olympic Village at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing

In a widely publicized event, over 100 foreign missionaries were expelled from China and some even blacklisted earlier this summer. The massive expulsion was the largest of its kind since 1954 after the communist government took power in 1949.

Because Shi’s arrest occurred just months before the Summer Olympics, it places China’s record in close monitor by the international community.

China has been under greater scrutiny by the international community for its human rights conduct as it prepares to host the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Although it claims to be a country of religious tolerance, human rights groups have reported a secret campaign to crackdown on unregistered church activities before the Olympics.

China has an underground Christian population estimated to be as high as 100 million, although experts are quick to point out the difficulty in obtaining the real count.