Christian House-Church Leader Released from Custody Following International Pressure

( [email protected] ) Jun 01, 2004 11:23 PM EDT

Authorities in the eastern province of Anhui released a well-known leader of China’s house-church movement last week. Monitoring groups reported that Zhao Wenquan, 60, was detained May 9th in Hegoi, Anhui, after 4,000 villagers attended a religious festival organized by his independent Christian church to mark the end of the spring harvest. He was released after three weeks, and charges of “disturbing the social order” and “organizing illegal religious activities” were dropped, said a Pennsylvania-based rights group.

According to the China Aid Association, Zhao’s family and church members credit international pressure for his recent release and report that he was only “lightly beaten while in jail.” Voice of the Martyr (VOM) sources in China gave a similar report saying Zhao suffered only “minor beatings” during his incarceration, and was in good spririts after his release. Members of his house church group expressed their thankfulness for international prayer and protest after Zhao’s arrest.

“People sometimes ask us, “Can I really make a difference?” said VOM spokesman Todd Nettleton. “This case shows that we can make a difference for our brothers and sisters in China.”

Zhao has been active in the house-church movement for more than 30 years. His is one of the many evangelical groups that are persecuted for rejecting government authority. Zhao was arrested when the Domestic Security Protection Division Team of the Meng Cheng Country PSB raided a group of over 4,000 Christians gathered for a special harvest celebration. According to VOM sources, the charges of “disturbing the social order” and organizing an “illegal religious gathering” appear to have been dropped, and that his 14-day “administrative detention” will be the only punishment for his involvement in the gathering.

Over the past year scores of church leaders have been arrested, and church meeting places demolished as part of a crackdown on churches that refused to accept the authority of official Communist Party-controlled Christian organizations.

“Our brothers and sisters in China still desperately need our prayers and support,” said Nettleton. “While the release of Brother Zhao is good news, persecution of Chinese Christians is not going away.”

The Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom, who earlier this month urged the US government to press Beijing for Zhao’s freedom, hailed the release of the Protestant pastor. “The Chinese government has shown some promising responsiveness to world public opinion,” said Center director Nina Shea, “so the pressure must continue until all religious prisoners are released.”

Currently, The Center is still requesting the release of well-known evangelical leader Xu Shuangfu, founder of the “Three Class Servants” church who remains in custody following his April 26 arrest.