140 underground Chinese Christians jailed
Ecumenical News International, November 17, 1998
Beijing – More than 140 underground Christians have been arrested in Henan province of China, according to a letter sent to the international community on 9 November.
The letter was sent by a Chinese Christian who appealed for the international community to urge the Chinese government to release those who had been arrested. The letter claims there is a “new wave of religious persecution in China”.
However, a spokeswoman for China’s Religious Affairs Bureau in Beijing, the government department which oversees the practice of religion, said she had not heard of the arrests and had no immediate comment.
The letter was signed by “David Chang, external spokesman of Chinese family churches”, who claims to represent 80 million underground Christians in China, though both official and unofficial sources regard this figure as highly inflated. The letter, which has been released by the New York-based Human Rights in China, has been sent to the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, the US President, Bill Clinton, the US Congress and State Department, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations.
The letter said that the police arrested the Christians from two “family meeting places” in Henan on 26 October and 5 November. Chang said those arrested included Han Rongqin, Cheng Meiying, Song Jingxuan, Wang Kaiju, Quan Ailing, Zhang Qingyun, Liu Xiang, Li Ping, Liu Yuanpo, Ma Yunhsai, Li Xiaona, Lu Lianquan, and Zhang Fushan. Chang said that they were brutally beaten once they were in prison. The letter added that wide-scale persecution was expected within the next few months.
Of China’s 23 provinces, Henan, southwest of Beijing, has one of China’s highest percentages of Christians. The province is believed to have up to 3.5 million Christians.
The authorities in Henan, as in most of the inland provinces of China, are considered more conservative than those in coastal provinces who are more tolerant of non-registered churches. Some underground church sources also claimed that some leaders of the Three-Self Movement, a Christian organization which is recognized by Beijing, have described the non-registered churches as heretical.
A US-based ecumenical official who specializes in Asian affairs told ENI today that there had been considerable problems in church-state relations in Henan for the past five years. However he questioned the figure of 140 arrests and the suggestion that the Three-Self Movement had accused non-registered churches of heresy.