China: Prominent House Church Pastor Arrested for 'Divulging State Secrets,' Awaiting Prosecution

Oct 19, 2016 10:25 AM EDT

A prominent house church pastor in China's central Guizhou province is awaiting prosecution after being arrested and charged with "divulging state secrets" amid an ongoing crackdown on Christians in the country.

According to persecution watchdog China Aid, Pastor Su Tianfu, who is one of several Christians from Huoshi Church swept into legal proceedings as part of a government crackdown, consulted his lawyer after obtaining a notice that his case would be transferred to the Procuratorate.

The attorney informed the pastor, who has been under constant surveillance since last December, that this marked the end of official investigation on his case and that it would be given to the Procuratorate for prosecution.

China Aid reports that the pastor's troubles began last year, when the government issued an administrative penalty notice addressed to him, accountant and chairwoman of the church's deacons Zhang Xiuhong, and church member Liang Xuewu on Oct. 21, 2015. The document accused them of changing the approved usage of an office from "business operations" to religious activities, despite having rented the space to hold church services.

The government ordered church leaders to revert the space to its original use within 15 days or incur a fine that would accumulate thousands of dollars per day. However, officials froze the church's bank account after Zhang attempted to withdraw funds at her beauty shop, leaving them unable to pay the fine.

Because of the church's failure to pay the fine, the authorities recently doubled it before charging Su with  "divulging state secrets."

"How can I have state secrets?" the pastor asked. "This is for the report received by foreign media on how the churches are being persecuted. I forwarded the article on WeChat. A brother took a snapshot of this report and wrote a prayer letter. I forwarded the prayer letter."

The pastor's imprisonment comes as the Communist government continues to tighten its grip on Christianity; over the past year, up to 1,700 churches have been demolished or had their crosses removed in Zhejiang alone province, and a significant number of pastors and human rights lawyers have been arrested and incarcerated.

As earlier reported, the Chinese government recently implemented harsh new regulations intended to suppress independent religious organizations as part of a general and ongoing crusade against the "three evils"- separatism, terrorism, and religious extremism.

Nevertheless, the growth rate of Christianity in China has been put at 7 percent a year by David Aikman, author of Jesus in Beijing, a former TIME Magazine bureau chief in Beijing, and the country is on track to have the largest Christian population in the world by 2030.