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China frees opponents of cross-removals

HONG KONG (UCAN): Four pastors and two lawyers, who were arrested and jailed for opposing the government campaign to demolish or remove crosses from Church buildings in Wenzhou, China.

The most recent one to have been picked up, Pastor Wang Yunxian, from the Longwan Church in coastal Zhejiang province, was released on December 11 by authorities in Wenzhou.

Others in the amnesty are Pastor Cheng Chaohua, Pastor Huang Xiaoyuan and Pastor Zhou Jian, as well as two lawyers, Fang Xiangui and Liu Peng, who were released on December 8 and 9. Two other pastors had already been freed in late November.

However, Zhang Kai, the key lawyer who represented the churches in challenging the cross-removal campaign, remained in jail along with six other pastors.

A Protestant minister from Wenzhou, who only identified himself as Luke, said that Fang told him that he had not been tortured during his detention, but the inevitable psychological pressure was there.

Luke described the release of those who had been detained as being beneficial to the patching up of China’s human rights image both at home and abroad.

He added that the prisoner releases may be linked to the promotion of Chen Yixin, a Communist Party secretary inWenzhou—often referred to as the Jerusalem of the East because of its large Christian population—as a top economic adviser to the president, Xi Jinping.

“He may not want to leave himself a bad name before moving to Beijing,” Luke said.

The South China Morning Post in Hong Kong reported that as the party boss in Wenzhou, Chen was said to have presided over both the cross-removal and church demolition campaign in the name of clearing the areas of illegal constructions.

“Chen showed no distinctive performance as party boss of Wenzhou. The top leaders admired his firmness in the demolition campaign as he had to withstand great pressure domestically and internationally,” a Catholic person in Wenzhou, named Peter, commented.

It is estimated more than 1,500 crosses were removed, as well as some churches being either totally or partially demolished in Zhejiang during the two-year campaign that began in late 2013.

Local sources believe the campaign has subsided, as China prepares for a planned national meeting on religious affairs scheduled to happen sometime in December this year.


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