China Releases Some Christian Leaders, But Prominent Pastor Xu Shuangfu Remains in Custody
June 1, 2004
by Center for Religious Freedom
Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom hails the release by Chinese authorities of two Catholic priests and a Protestant pastor, Zhao Wenquan. However, well-known Christian evangelical leader Xu Shuangfu, founder of the independent Three Class Servants church, detained on April 26, remains in custody. In press releases last month, the Center urged the U.S. government to press Beijing for their freedom.
According to China Aid, a Pennsylvania-based rights group, Zhao’s family and church members credit international pressure for his recent release and report that he was only “lightly beaten” while in jail. Zhao had been arrested in Anhui province in east-central China on May 9 during a large outdoor harvest celebration.
AsiaNews, a Catholic publication, reported that also released were two underground Catholic priests, Father Lu Genjun, age 42, and Father Cheng Xiaoli, age 40. The two were detained on May 14 in An Guo in northern China and freed following a huge media backlash surrounding their detention. They had been charged with “disturbing public order” as they prepared to give classes in natural family planning and Catholic morality. The classes had not been approved in advance by the Bureau of Religious Affairs.
Father Cheng is from An Guo itself, a parish that has been without a bishop since underground bishop Liu Difeng died in prison. Father Lui had come to An Guo from his home parish in Hebei, where over one million Catholics reside. Lui has been arrested several times and was just released a few months ago after three years in a forced labor camp.
Still jailed is Pastor Xu Shuangfu, age 59, kidnapped at gunpoint while visiting church members in Heilongjian province. Xu, who has spent more than 20 years in prison, is thought to be the spiritual leader of some hundreds of thousands Christians. His goddaughter reported that police had asked for payment of a ransom equivalent to $28,000 and threatened that otherwise “the old man” could lose one of his fingers or even his life.
“The Chinese government has shown some promising responsiveness to world public opinion,” said Center director Shea, “so the pressure must continue until Xu and all religious prisoners are released.”
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