CHINA (ICC) — Two weeks ago, the New York Times published details of a fascinating interview with Mr. Zhang, the claimed author of a note written in English and allegedly smuggled out of the Masanjia labor camp while he was imprisoned there. The letter was discovered by a woman in Oregon who found it stashed in a box of Halloween decorations that were packaged at the labor camp. The letter revealed that conditions in the camp were “a living hell” and that about half the camp’s occupants were either Falun Gong practitioners or members of underground house churches.
In late 2012, China Aid, a human rights organization dedicated to assisting Chinese Christians who face abuses of religious freedom, published a report citing an increase of 131.8 percent in the number of Christians imprisoned by the Chinese government over the course of 2012. The report was alarming and controversial, but recent research conducted on the ground by International Christian Concern (ICC) has confirmed that Christians still face arrest and imprisonment in large numbers despite the overall impression that China has curtailed repression of religious minorities in recent years.
One eyewitness sentenced to a re-education through labor camp in Shangqui, Henan Province, told ICC late last month that she estimates at least 50 to 60 Christians spent time in her camp over the course of her two-year sentence. She said many were arrested repeatedly for refusing to stop attending house churches which remain technically illegal in China. The only legal option for Protestants is to attend an officially registered “Three-Self church.” However, millions of Chinese Christians refuse to join these churches due to the high level of control exerted by the Communist Party over everything — from what is preached to who is allowed to preach it.