Chinese Christian Arrested for Printing Religious Materials, Devotionals Facing Criminal Sentencing

Oct 18, 2016 10:35 AM EDT

A Christian leader in China's southern Guangdong province arrested for printing religious materials faces criminal sentencing after standing trial today, a persecution watchdog has revealed.

According to China Aid, Li Hongmin, a member of a house church in Guangzhou, was detained earlier this year for "illegal business operations" after he printed various Christian booklets, including the popular devotional Streams in the Desert.

Authorities confiscated these printings, as well as Li's cell phone and other personal items before raiding his house. A source told China Aid that the authorities told Li that he would only be held for two hours and would be allowed to go home. However, they did not let him go home but detained him instead.

At the time, Li's wife expressed shock and disbelief after hearing of the severity of the charges that were made against her husband, arguing that the materials being printed out by Li was far from being "illegal" or dangerous.

"The materials we printed were not heresies. They were not opposed to the Communist Party in any way. On the contrary, they teach people to help others, to love their fellow countrymen, their home and their country," she said.

During the trial, Li's lawyers, Li Baiguang and Liu Peifu, echoed such a sentiment and upheld their client's innocence. The court has yet to issue a verdict, according to China Aid.

Since assuming office in March 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping has shown discomfort with the country's 67 million to 100 million Christians, and in April told his Communist Party members that they must be "unyielding Marxist atheists" who will control Christians and other religious groups in the country.

Thus, since 2014, the Communist regime has been targeting Christians and demolishing churches, deeming the buildings "illegal." The government has demolished more than 200 churches and removed over 2,000 crosses in China's Zhejiang province - known as "China's Jerusalem" due to its large Christian population - in an effort to limit Christianity's influence in the region.

The persecution is expected to only increase: Last month, China enacted laws that tighten control over foreign clergy and online religious material and impose fines of up to $30,000 for "illegal religious activities," such as unauthorized pilgrimages. The new regulations state that "citizens enjoy religious freedom" in China and that "no organization can discriminate against citizens who believe in a religion."

"Any religious group or religious individual should not use religion to bring threats against national security," reads a two-page letter explaining the new regulations. The government added that "religious institutions or any religious publication should not use the Internet to fuel protest, create national division or terrorist activity."

China watcher Brent Fulton told CBN that officials have long viewed Christianity as a Western tool that undermines and tries to infiltrate China: "In these new regulations there are things that specifically mention foreign infiltration," Fulton, with China Source, said. "I think that's what they are most concerned about--the influence of the West as they see it happening through the church."

Dr. David Curry, president of persecution watchdog Open Doors USA, told CBN that the new laws do have some common sense religious regulations that could protect the rights of Christians, but expressed concern over the long term impact they'll have on China's Christian population.

"Many people within China view Christianity and their rapid growth as a threat to national unity," he said