Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Picture Story of the Persecution on Linfen Church

In the early hours of September 13, 2009, 400 local police, government officials, and hired vandals attacked Fushan House Church, demolishing the new church building and damaging the Good News Cloth Shoes Factory in Linfen City, Shanxi.

Church members who were sleeping at the construction site were brutally beaten with bricks and clubs.

As the day broke, hundreds of believers from the 50,000-member Linfen Church network, rushed to the aid of the injured.

More than 30 church members had to be hospitalized in critical condition.

Those left standing sustained brutal beatings, leaving blood staining the remains of the building site.

The attackers showed no mercy for the young and old alike. One governing official shouted unabashedly, "Strike Everything! We will pay for it!"

Local Fushan County officials prohibited hospitals from giving the victims blood transfusions, forcing them to transfer to regional hospitals for care.

21 victims remain in critical condition today.

The unprecedented attack on the Fushan Church marked a bloody escalation of persecution against the 30 sister churches in the Linfen House Church network.

The attackers smashed appliances, looted valuables, and seized and destroyed personal items, including Bibles and Sunday school materials printed by the church.

Shattering the windows, doors, and machinery of the Good News factory, the attackers destroyed one of Linfen Church's primary sources of income.

Access to the factory site was closed off, with power, water, and all communications severed to Fushan and neighboring Linfen churches.

Two bulldozers decimated the foundations of the new Fushan Church building.

When the dust settled, 17 buildings at the factory complex had been reduced to rubble, the new church building a heap of brick and metal.

Before leaving, Fushan County officials "cleaned up" some of the mess, using the bulldozers to clear debris. The tracks left behind tell the true story. 

The next day, members of Jindengtai "Golden Lampstand" Church held a prayer rally for the victims of the Fushan Church attack. Despite police threats, more than 1,000 prayed together in the rain.

Days later, state military police stood 24-hour guard around the Linfen church buildings, barring believers from worshipping in their churches. When Fushan County officials banned Linfen Church, the Linfen Leaders planned to file a complaint with the Central Government.

On September 19, 2009, Fushan officials led covert negotiations with Linfen Pastor Yang Rongli and two staff. They offered the church 1.4 million Yuan to keep silent about the attack, but would not lift the church ban. Yang and the others refused the offer.

Pastors Yang Rongli (L) and her husband Wang Xiaoguang (R) were detained on September 25, 2009, with six other church leaders to prevent them from filing their complaint. 

Over the next two weeks, more leaders were harassed in order to break the spirit of the church. By November, ten remained illegally detained, including Yang Xuan (L) and his wife, Yang Caizhen (R).

With no warning, the family members of five prisoners were advised on November 2nd to hire legal counsel for the trial, to be held November 25th. They scrambled to hire defense lawyers on short notice.

As they prepared for the trial, the families were subjected to police surveillance in their homes. All but 4 family members in total were denied permits to attend the trial.

The show-trial lasted only one day—with all five leaders receiving criminal sentences in the end. Yang Rongli received the most severe sentence of 7-years imprisonment and a 30,000 Yuan fine.

On November 30, 2009, the five remaining Linfen church leaders were sentenced to two years of Re-Education through Labor each. Sustaining beatings and torture in prison, all ten have begun their appeals—in faithful pursuit of justice and religious freedom.

Daughter of Linfen Prisoners’ Appeal

Dear Friends,

Esther (Yang Xue)
I am very worried about my parents, especially after the Linfen Inferior Court sentenced my father to three and a half years’ imprisonment on November 25th. Five days later, my mother was sentenced to two years’ Re-education through Labor; the court made this decision without proceeding, investigating or gathering any evidence. On the next day, my mother would be transferred to Taiyuan City to serve the sentence at Shanxi Women Prison. Before she left, the police informed her relatives to bring some clothes and daily supplies to her. One of her relatives had the chance to briefly meet her and found that she did not look well. She had lost one front tooth; her hair seemed much greyer and her hands a little swollen.

Brothers and sisters, can you imagine how I felt when I heard this? I know my mother better than anyone else. She is just a housewife, dedicated to her faith and diligently serving the Lord. My father is prudent in studying and teaching the Bible; he practices what the Bible teaches. How could he do anything that violates the law? I still remember how he encouraged his children to carry out our New Year’s resolution in 2003. He earnestly instructed us about things we should not do in our lives: never take God’s name in vain, never outrage your conscience, and never disobey the law. How can a father of virtue violate the law? As for the so called evidence the prosecutors provided at the court, you would know it was false, especially light of the lawyers’ defense of my father. (See the Defense statement for Yang Xuan below Esther’s Appeal.)

I feel compelled to share my family’s story in the hope that you will see and know their true characters, and the extent of this injustice.

Yang Xuan
My father Yang Xuan began to serve the Lord full time in 1974, serving in ministry for 35 years. I remember when I was little, my father studied at Yanjing Seminary. I seldom saw him at home; he always went back to school soon after visiting our family. After graduating from the seminary, he had two choices before him: join the three-self church, enjoy a stable income, a peaceful life and a promising future; or join a house church by faith, which would not guarantee anything for his life. After fervent prayer, he chose to join a house church, which he believed to be in accordance with Biblical teaching. My father has always clearly understood what he chose in that moment.

In 1994, my father moved the whole family to Linfen to begin ministering. At that time, the churches in Linfen had recently separated from the Three-Self churches. Many brothers and sisters did not have a place to worship, and so assembled in the backyards of some church members’ houses. For six years, we endured harsh weather, be it coldness or heat, dusty wind or storm. Nevertheless, the congregation grew from 50 to 700 members. It would get so crowded that the late-comers would have to move into additional houses, just to listen to the sermons. All these sites were scattered at different places, so my father had to run around to preach in several different homes.

Driven by faith, he thoroughly enjoyed his work and never tired of it. Every night when I came home, I could always find my father talking cheerfully to my mother about how the brothers and sisters were nurtured on that day, and how many more were saved.

My father Yang Xuan, my uncle Wang Xiaoguang and his wife Yang Rongli, along with coworkers and church members led Sunday worship, member trainings, discipleship and the worship band for Jindengtai “Golden Lampstand” Church in Linfen City. My father was in charge of the band, which was active in fruitful ministry. In addition to leading the band and preaching, my father loves writing, and many of his dramas helped brothers and sisters learn about God as the head of the family. Over the years of preaching, my father learned from his experience and mistakes and eventually wrote a book “On Preaching.”

My father is not perfect, but he is man of principle, and he stands firm on what he believes. His parenting style was a little rough on his two children: My father would ask me to read the Bible daily, pray and do morning exercises, and read all kinds of spiritual books. He did not allow us to watch TV, go shopping, and he even put a curfew on us. All these restrictions made me antagonistic toward my father and his faith. I felt my father was “out-dated.” I did not realize I had benefited from his teaching in belief and daily life until later in life.

Yang Caizhen
My mother Yang Caizhen had been a doctor; she maintained a stable job and income. But she quit her job to support my father and his ministry. After her resignation, she had a much busier life; she had to take care of my father and supervise me and my brother to study. Sometimes, she had to work part time. Even so, she never forgot to urge us to study the Bible, go to church every Sunday and prepare ourselves to serve the Lord. This is how my brother and I built our foundation of faith. We were not willing to obey in the beginning; later as we grew older, we experienced the joy of the presence of God. Eventually, we repented and were baptized. While we were away from home for college, we participated diligently in church ministries. One time, I asked my mother, “Did you feel mistreated when my father was too busy with church to take care of us?” She replied, “No. I have always admired what your father is doing at church.”

This was my family, busy and full of joy. The events of September 13th struck me. I did not know something had happened until I tried, but was unable, to contact my parents by phone. On September 19th, I kept calling home but nobody answered. At first I thought I had dialed the wrong number; later I realized that the telephone line at my house was being transferred to somewhere else. I was very worried about my parents, so I kept on calling; but still, nobody answered. I still have not been able to talk to my parents.

I learned about the incident from my relatives and friends, and in early October, I learned from the internet news that my parents had been arrested and transferred to prison. On October 15th, a relative of my mother was asked to sign the Notice of Administrative Detention for my mother; as for my father, no one has seen his notice of detention. Currently, there has been unusually heavy snow in Shanxi, with predictions of the weather worsening. I am so concerned for my parents’ health.

Yang Family photo
My dear Christian brothers, sisters and churches, I am letting you know the harsh circumstances that dedicated Christians are facing in mainland China. My father, Pastor Yang Xuan, and my mother, Yang Caizhen, are being persecuted like many other Christians and house churches. Due to the persecution, I have been unable to contact my parents since mid-September. All we ask for is the freedom to worship and share the Gospel. Nowadays, the government reportedly advocates religious freedom and human rights; nevertheless, we have encountered many difficulties in exercising this very basic civil right.

Please do not reserve your sympathy for the Chinese Christians. As the New Year begins, please remember them in your prayers and appeal for them! I call upon everyone to fight for religious freedom in China, and to financially support organizations that advocate for religious freedom and human rights.

Here I would like to express my appreciation to China Aid Association. Ever since I lost contact with my parents, I have been able to receive the latest news from ChinaAid. They helped me contact the human rights lawyers to appeal for my parents, when all lawyers in China were warned not to deal with the Linfen Case. They made great endeavors to help my parents and the house churches leaders in Linfen.

As you consider ways you can help, I ask that you continue to pray for the deliverance of my parents and justice for all the imprisoned leaders. May the Lord bless the efforts of ChinaAid and other concerned human rights organizations, as they fight for religious freedom in China. May God bless their ministries and provide abundantly for what they need.

Thank you!
--Esther (Yang Xue)

Video-Daughter of Imprisoned Linfen Pastors Speaks Out

In her appeal, Esther (Yang Xue) calls on the international community to fight for religious freedom in China.

Chapter 4: The Aftermath and Appeals

CHAPTER 4: The Aftermath and Appeals

Only five days later, on November 30th, the five remaining pastors in detention, who were not formally charged or given a trial, learned of their dire fate—two years arbitrary Re-education through Labor for each. The families of Yang Caizhen (wife of Yang Xuan), Ms. Yang Hongzhen, Mr. Li Shuangping, Ms. Gao Qin (also known as Gao Fuqin), and Ms. Zhao Guoai all signed the notification of sentence papers, even though no notices of arrests were ever given (a violation of Chinese criminal law).

Yang Rongli returned to the Taiyuan Detention Center, with her husband, Wang Xiaoguang, and Cui Jiaxing, Yang Xuan, Yang Caizhen, Yang Hongzhen, Li Shuanping, Gao Qin, and Zhao Guoai all returning to the Yaodu Detention Center in Linfen City, with Zhang Huamei held in poor condition at Yicheng County Detention Center.

The families’ outcry for these ten Linfen church believers was immediate. Each family immediately agreed to file for appeal, with only Cui Jiaxing, under pressure from the government, being represented by a state lawyer instead of his former defense. Nine appeals have been filed, though several lawyers have were barred from meeting with their clients. In recent weeks, the condition has worsened for many.

Zhang Huamei has still not been allowed to meet with her lawyer Zhang Kai to sign the file for appeal. Having been re-routed to the detention center, to the courts, to the local government, and back, Zhang Kai fears her to be in grave danger. Reports of severe beatings continue to circulate. According to a witness, Ms. Yang Caizhen was seen being beaten severely during an interrogation. Having had one of her front teeth knocked out during a beating, and fasting and praying during her detention, Ms. Yang is reported to look very fragile.
The Linfen Church case is one of the most severe cases of persecution against Chinese house churches, in both sentence and widespread impact, in the last decade. ChinaAid will continue to follow the developments of the appeals, and advocate on the Linfen leaders’ behalf.

Chapter 3: Taken to Trial

CHAPTER 3: Taken to Trial

On November 2nd, the Linfen Court notified family members of Yang Rongli, Wang Xiaoguang, Yang Xuan, Cui Jiaxing and Zhang Huamei that their trial would be held on November 25th. The rapid turnaround left the families in desperate need of legal aid. With communication efforts by ChinaAid’s Legal Defense Team in Beijing, five Christian human rights lawyers, including two traveling abroad, heard their cry and immediately accepted the challenge of the case. Attorneys Wang Hongjie and Yang Peng took the lead for the case, attempting to visit their clients, Yang Rongli and Wang Xiaoguang in detention. Attorney Wang Hongjie was not allowed to visit Yang Rongli, though the nine other lawyers were eventually able to meet with their clients, after much hassle from the Chinese detention center officials and the Linfen court. Attorney Wang, in fact, would meet with his client Yang Rongli only once—12 hours before her trial began.

With the trial fast approaching, the family members made preparations to attend the hearing, but were informed they could not attend without visitation permits. Only the lawyers could obtain the permits for them; this was a ploy to arrange a forced meeting with the lawyers before the trial. After hours of negotiations, only four family members in total were administered permits to attend. The night of November 24th, Deputy President Di and Presiding Judge Hou “briefed” the five attorneys on the following day’s proceedings. They planned to complete the trial between 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM at night, with verdict and sentence immediately following—indicating a verdict had already been reached.

The suspicious conduct of the court set a forbidding tone for the trial. On November 25th, plain-clothes police lined the street to the Linfen Courthouse, spaced one-yard apart military-style, barring access to all but the lawyers. As the preliminary proceedings went underway, the lawyers were given access to only 30 documents used by the prosecution for evidence, out of the more than 100 documents submitted as evidence against the five Linfen pastors. These far-fetched documents included testimonies of one pastor against his wife, and vice versa, among other dubious eye-witness accounts. Furthermore, discrepancies over dates and documents were overlooked, including vital details such as a two week difference between the date of original detention for the pastors and the date indicated in the prosecution-submitted documents. Such inconsistencies were examined and validated, “because they were in the record.” The show trial broke for a brief recess at noon from the small court on the 3rd floor of the Yaodu District Courthouse. During the recess Yang Rongli and Wang Xiaoguang spoke with their son, one of the four able to attend, encouraging him with hope. There was no trace of fear in their eyes.

As the trial continued the pastors were charged with the crimes of “unlawfully occupying agricultural land” and “gathering to disturb the traffic order.” The land dispute, incidentally, referred to the land upon which the three-story Golden Lampstand Church resides, not the demolished Gospel Shoes Factory of Fushan Church. The land issue, by which authorities justified their attack on Fushan Church, had been stricken from the record entirely. The prayer rally with thousands in attendance for Fushan Church on September 14th was classified as the “traffic disturbance”—a typically minor violation.

Cui Jiaxing was further questioned about alleged “tax evasion” for church accounts, and many charges like his had no substantial evidence; Attorney Cheng Zhunqiang said that as for his client, Yang Xuan, the bill of prosecution had only one sentence accusing Yang of organizing the construction of the church—founded on a solitary piece of paper which had not been verified. Such was the nature of hundreds of pieces of evidences mounted by the prosecution against the Linfen pastors.

Throughout the proceedings, the five pastors held their heads high, and responded respectfully to the questions of the prosecutors, despite the ridiculous charges. They arrived in court hand-cuffed, and only after the lawyers requested their shackles to be removed did the court police abide by the rules. Yang Rongli, a primary target for her years of community work on behalf of the church, spoke confidently of her actions. Wang Xiaoguang, Yang Xuan, and Cui Jiaxing likewise appeared calm and confident. Each of them was interrogated separately.

Only Zhang Huamei showed any sign of stress. Barred by prison guards from meeting with her following the trial, her lawyer Zhang Kai later learned from other she had been harassed, possibly beaten by the guards for sharing her faith. The trauma continued when she was isolated from the other pastors after the trial and sent to Yicheng County prison—a special unit for injured and ailing prisoners.

Though the lawyers defended the honor of their clients with strong evidence and the law on their side, the court found the five pastors guilty of “unlawfully occupying agricultural land” and “gathering to disturb the traffic order.” As the Chief leader of Linfen Church and Head Pastor of the Golden Lampstand Church, Yang Rongli was charged with “illegally occupying land” and “disturbing the traffic order,” criminally sentenced to 7 years and fined 30,000 Yuan, one of the worst sentences against a house church pastor in the last decade. As the Chief Leader of Fushan Church, Zhang Huamei was charged for “gathering to disturb the traffic order,” and criminally sentenced to 4 years. The other three persons, Wang Xiaoguang, Yang Xuan and Cui Jiaxing were all charged for unlawful occupation of agricultural land. Cui Jiaxing was later on added with another charge for tax evasion. Wang Xiaoguang earned 3 years, with a fine of 10,000 Yuan; Yang Xuan was sentenced to 3 ½ years with a 20,000 Yuan fine; and Cui Jiaxing received 5 ½ years with a 50,000 Yuan fine for both his charges. Upon hearing the verdicts, announced just hours after the rushed trial concluded, family members lamented, "The law is silent when arms are present."

Chapter 2: Linfen Church Leaders Detained

CHAPTER 2: Linfen Church Leaders Detained

Fearing an uprising, Fushan officials invited Chief Pastor Yang Rongli and two other church staff to negotiate in a covert meeting on Friday, September 19, 2009. By the next morning, the Fushan County government had agreed to pay 1.4 million Yuan in damages to Linfen Church and allow them to rebuild. However, the Fushan authorities refused to release Shan Yongchang (who was reported the September 13th-incident via text-message) or to lift the ban on neighboring house churches, whose doors were barred and guarded by state military police officers.

Unwilling to be bought for their silence, Head Pastor Yang Rongli refused the payment, and decided to bring the church’s complaints to the central governing authorities in Taiyuan City, capital of Shanxi. Joined by six other church staff (including her husband Wang Xiaoguang) Yang Rongli attempted to leave for Taiyuan on September 25 to file their claim, but was detained without cause by the local police. With the Oct. 1 National Day celebrations fast approaching, the Fushan PSB could not allow the complaints to reach the central authorities. They held all seven Linfen Church leaders without formal charge to allegedly “prevent disturbing the social order.” Only four of the families received notice of their arrest. The crackdown continued on September 26th, when state military police arrived at the doors of Jin Dongtai (Golden Lampstand ) Church, a member church of the Linfen network. All church staff were placed under 24-hour surveillance by military guards.

While held at the Yaodu Detention Center in Linfen, the pastors took solace in their faith. Zhang Huamei and other leaders shared their faith with inmates, singing hymns and reciting Scripture. Members of the Linfen Church community continued to gather for prayer and worship, issuing a call to action on behalf of the Linfen Church pastors. Government officials initiated vicious rumors about the pastors, claiming they were a drain on society, secretly trying to subvert the local government, and painting Christians as greedy, evil dissidents.

On September 28, Fushan governing officials held another secret emergency meeting, to determine whether they could prosecute Linfen Church as an "evil cult group." Yet the 50,000 member church’s reputation for honorable social work and peace-making in its 30-year history could not be denied. The Fushan officials eventually agreed the church could not be considered a cult—but the officials vowed they could not let the alleged wrongdoings of the church continue any longer.

On October 9, Linfen church members saw a glimmer of hope when Shan Yongchang was released from his detention. The authorities then offered nine pastors their freedom the next day, holding only Yang Rongli captive. In solidarity, the church leaders refused to leave the Yaodu Detention center without Pastor Yang. "We are one team in the one body of Christ! We won't leave her behind alone. We will not leave prison without her!"

Retribution was immediate. On October 11, ten more Linfen church leaders were arrested, and Yang Linli, Yang Rongli’s younger sister, was seized from their home and held without warrant. Yang Xuan and Yang Caizhen among others joined the Linfen Church leaders in detention at Yaodu. The Fushan PSB tried to break their spirit by threatening to arrest more church leaders and ransack their homes—but the pastors stood firm. Though Yang Linli and several leaders were released on October 16, they were placed under strict orders not to speak to anyone about the Linfen Church case. The eleven remaining detainees braced themselves for the worse.

As her health deteriorated from fasting in prison, Yang Rongli was soon transferred from Yaodu to the high-security Taiyuan Detention Center. On October 17, Wang Xiaoguang, Yang Caizhen, Yang Hongzhen, Su Qing and Li Shuangping were sentenced to criminal detention (Su Qing was released soon after). Family and church members issued a desperate call for action and prayer on behalf of Yang Rongli and the pastors.

The Persecution of Linfen Church-Chapter 1

CHAPTER 1: Destruction of Fushun Church

In the early morning hours of Sunday, September 13, Linfen Church members were jolted awake by rowdy, screeching intruders. A mixed mob of 400 police officers, local government officials, and hired thugs beat the church members who were sleeping at the construction site of their new church building. Heavily bleeding, more than 20 members were severely injured and hospitalized. Local officials instructed the hospitals not to give the victims blood transfusions, forcing them to be relocated to regional hospital care. The next day, church members looked on at the massive destruction: 17 buildings on the Good News Cloth Shoes Factory property destroyed; TVs, refrigerators, and appliances looted or smashed personal belongings including money, Bibles, and church documents, pilfered or destroyed. The work of two shovel front-loaders and a bitter and evil mob reduced the new Fushan Church building to rubble.

Yet on Monday, September 14, 2009, only the sweet sound of singing pierced the cloudy day, as over 1,000 members gathered in the pouring rain to pray for Linfen Church. The destruction of Fushan Church, which served as one of 30 church homes to the 50,000 members of Linfen Church in Shanxi, marked the climax of a long-burning hatred by local officials for the vibrant and socially-conscious Linfen House Church community. Linfen Church leaders called on the government to repay the damages to their property and issue a public apology. The Fushan government responded by installing state police guards at numerous house church sites, and banning members from gathering to worship. Water, electricity, and all communications were cut off for neighboring churches, including three-story house church Jin Dengtai (Golden Lampstand) in Linfen.

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