Print Version    Email to Friend
Push for property or control?

BEIJING (AsiaNews): Authorities in the central province of Henan, mainland China, have formalised charges of fraud and disturbing public order against a Protestant Christian pastor, Zhang Shaojie, who was arrested in November last year after a fierce battle with officials to defend his congregation’s property against expropriation.

His lawyers, Liu Weiguo and Xia Jun, confirm that the trial is set to take place soon.

Zhang belongs to the Three-Self Movement, the official government bureau overseeing all activities of the Protestant Church.

In China, technically only registered religious groups may operate, but there are more unofficial Protestant Christians (about 80 million) than there are members of the Three-Self Movement (about 20 million).

Fearing that the situation may get out of hand, for almost five years there has been a campaign to eliminate the unofficial communities or merge them into the official community.

Pastor Zhang leads his community in the county of Nanle. Beyond the formal charges, the reason for his arrest is not clear: on the one hand there is his refusal to surrender Church property to the authorities and on the other, some sources speak of a manoeuvre to replace him as leader of the official Christian community in the area.

In either case, he is denying having done anything wrong.

At Christmas, hundreds of Protestants from Shenzhen, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Hebei, Shandong and Beijing went to Nanle to express their support for the local community and spend the holidays there.

They were forced to hold their Christmas liturgy outside, since the church premises is now guarded by security officials. Immediately after the service, they were attacked by what have been described as unknown assailants who people say beat them.

 

A Christian in the area, who wishes to remain anonymous for security reasons, said, “It seems clear that the government has already prepared some evidence to prove that our pastor is guilty. But he is not. The authorities’ behaviour is really terrible, scandalous towards us all.”

More from this section