Imprisoned pastor sues government

Pastors Su Tianfu (left) and Yang Hua
(Photo: ChinaAid)


(Guiyang, Guizhou—Oct. 27, 2017) An imprisoned house church pastor filed a lawsuit against local government departments in China’s southern Guizhou province on Oct. 10, claiming his religious freedom had been violated and that a fine was wrongly imposed on him, ChinaAid learned recently.

Li Guozhi, who is known by his alias, Yang Hua, pastored Huoshi Church, the largest house church in Guiyang, Guizhou, until he was taken into police custody for defending a church hard drive and sentenced to two-and-a-half years for “divulging state secrets.” Additionally, the government fined him and another of the church’s pastors, Su Tianfu, 7 million yuan ($1,020,200 USD), an amount the officials claimed the church had received as “illegal income.” However, Su and Yang claim that church members donated their money voluntarily to the church and argued that it was the church’s income, not their own, so there is no grounds for administrative action.

The pastors applied for a court hearing to contest the case, but their request was denied.

On Oct. 10, Yang sued the Nanming District Religious Affairs Bureau and the Guiyang Municipal Ethnic and Religious Committee for their abuse of religious freedom in his case. Quoting the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, he argued that neither he, Su, nor Huoshi Church had violated any laws concerning religious freedom.

Meanwhile, Su had submitted his own lawsuit against t the Nanming District Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau and the Guiyang Municipal Religious Affairs Bureau. According to him, ” … my lawyers received a number of calls from the judge of the Baiyun District Court saying that our complaint had problems and must be modified,” Su said. “Otherwise, it couldn’t be put on file. So yesterday [Oct. 23], Lawyer Yan Xin and I went to the Baiyun District Court.”

After they amended the content, the judge agreed to file the case. Su said, “In our indictment, there is an article that talks about faith. [The judge] said that the court could not engage the issue of faith. A filed case must not have any commentary, and he requested that we alter it.”

Below is a translation of Yang’s lawsuit.

ChinaAid exposes abuses, such as those suffered by Yang and Su, in order to stand in solidarity with persecuted Christians and promote religious freedom, human rights, and rule of law.

Guizhou-based Huoshi Church’s Rights Defense Activities

Administrative Lawsuit 

Plaintiff: Li Guozhi (alias pastor Yanghua), male, ethnically Han, born on March 28, 1977; ID number: 522426197703282819; Currently serving time at Guizhou province’s Kaili Prison.

Defendant: Guiyang’s Nanming District Religious Affairs Bureau. Location: 37 Xinglong St., Nanming District, Guiyang. Legal representative: Qiao Gaohua, Director of Nanming District Religious Affairs Bureau.

Defendant: Guiyang Municipal Ethnic and Religious Committee. Location: B-2, Jinyang Administrative Center’s Multi-use Office Building,Guanshanhu District, Guiyang. Legal representative: He Fabing, Director of Guiyang Municipal Ethnic and Religious Committee.

Request: Revoke the Nanming District Religious Affairs Bureau’s No.1 Administrative Penalty Ruling (2017); revoke the Guizhou Municipal Ethnic and Religious Committee’s No. 2 Administrative Reconsideration Ruling (2017).

Facts and Reasons:

The administrative penalty (confiscation of the “illegal income” of 7 million yuan) imposed by the Nanming District Religious Affairs Bureau and the reiteration of the penalty by the Guiyang Municipal Ethnic and Religious Committee constitute a violation of citizens’ religious freedom and therefore are illegal, unreasonable and unjust.

Religious freedom is a fundamental human right which includes at least the following: 1) “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching”; 2) “No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice”; 3) “Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others” [Editor’s note: These points are from Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights].

Religious freedom has been written into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which reflect the consensus of human civilizations and future trends. The two international documents are legally and morally binding to signatory countries, and therefore the Chinese government and its grassroots governments at all levels should respect and preserve the human rights championed and defended by these two documents.

Article 33 of the Chinese Constitution states that “The State respects and preserves human rights,” and Article 36 of the Constitution states that “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion. The state protects normal religious activities.”

Thus, religious freedom as a basic human right is protected explicitly by international laws as well as China’s current effective laws. Any secondary laws that violate the principle of religious freedom are ineffective, and any government behavior that interferes with and undermines religious freedom is illegal.

I. Guiyang-based Huoshi Church’s foundation and activities are citizens’ practices of their religious freedom and rights and the church did nothing illegal.

Founded on April 12, 2009, by plaintiffs Su Tianfu and Li Guozhi, the Huoshi Church held religious activities on a regular basis, and a total of over 500 believers have attended the church’s activities regularly at different stages of the church’s development. The church has never been involved in “activities that disrupt the social order, cause harm to the physical health of citizens, or interfere with China’s education system.”

Therefore, the Nanming District Religious Affairs Bureau’s outlawing of Huoshi Church and fining of Pastor Su Tianfu and Pastor Li Guozhi are interferences with religious freedom and violations of citizens’ religious freedom and religious rights.

II. Laws or regulations set up to practically interfere with the law regarding religious freedom are invalid since day one, without a doubt, and forever.

The State Council’s Regulations on Religious Affairs and Guizhou province’s Regulations on Religious Affairs cited in the penalty decision are invalid because their stipulations have interfered with religious freedom and violated the principles, philosophy and specific stipulations of the international covenants and the above-mentioned Chinese Constitution regarding religious freedom. The Nanming District Religious Affairs Bureau imposed the penalty on the plaintiffs, citing invalid administrative laws and provincial laws, which is illegal and invalid.

III. Huoshi Church’s failure to get registered with the government is a result of the local government’s retraction of their promise.

Long Defang, the former director of the Guizhou Municipal Religious Affairs Bureau, once spoke with the plaintiffs and Pastor Su Tianfu about issues regarding Huoshi Church’s registration with the government, and he promised to help the church get registered on behalf of the religious and administrative organs of Guizhou province. Out of the good intention to submit to the government’s authority, the plaintiffs and Pastor Su Tianfu also actively applied to Guiyang’s religious and administrative organs to get registered, according to their dialogue with Director Long Defang’s and the promise Long had made. However, Guiyang’s religious and administrative organs did not honor the promise of Director Long Defang and made unrealistic demands on the technicalities of registration, which resulted in Huoshi Church’s failure to complete registration. This was not caused by Huoshi Church’s mistakes, but by the retraction of the promise by the religious and administrative organs of Guizhou province and Guiyang, hence the plaintiffs and Huoshi Church should not be held responsible for it.

IV. Believers’ offerings were made voluntarily and all used to cover Huoshi Church’s corporate expenses and hence should not be identified as illegal income.

Since the founding of Huoshi Church, members of the church have voluntarily made offerings to cover the public expenses of the church, including disaster relief and charity, renting venues for church activities, compilation and printing of material, church staff salary, education of church members’ children, support for senior believers and funerals, etc. All these expenses have been accurately and carefully documented and every expense was for a clear and specific purpose to serve the congregation’s religious and other needs. Regardless, money donated by church members voluntarily and used on the congregation’s corporate expenses should not be perceived as the plaintiffs’ “illegal income.”

In addition, plaintiff Li Guozhi as Huoshi Church’s pastor is a separate entity from Huoshi Church. Offerings and donations made by believers were not collected or managed by Li Guozhi, but by a designated management committee. Therefore, Huoshi Church, not Li Guozhi, is the owner of these offerings and donations, and the “confiscation of illegal incomes” should be applied to Huoshi Church, not Li Guozhi (Huoshi Church was outlawed on Dec. 9. 2015, by Guoyang city’s Nanming District Religious Affairs Bureau, which means Huoshi Church was treated as an entity with a subjective legal status). Furthermore, as a full-time minister, Li Guozhi has never received any extra pay besides the modest salary paid to him by Huoshi Church. How can the hefty 7-million-yuan “illegal income” be justified?

V. The penalty decision is based on a grave miscalculation of the so-called “illegal income.”

The Nanming District Religious Affairs Bureau hired an accounting firm to audit Huoshi Church’s income and expenses and came to the following conclusion: Huoshi Church’s income between May 2009 and November 2015 amounts to 5,022,220.68 yuan ($757,168.17 USD) and the church’s expense amounts to 6,401,309.40 yuan ($965,084.58 USD). Since the church’s expenses exceed its income, where does plaintiff Li Guozhi’s “illegal income” come from?

What’s more surprising is that Nanming District Religious Affairs Bureau reckoned what is clearly listed as a loan of 2031,490.00 yuan taken out by Huoshi Church to build a church building as plaintiff Li Guozhi’s “illegal income.” Could it be more ridiculous than this!

To sum up, the penalty imposed by the Nanming District Religious Affairs Bureau on plaintiff Li Guozhi and the reiteration of the penalty by the Guiyang Municipal Ethnic and Religious Committee are illegal, invalid, unreasonable and unjust, and therefore should be revoked.

Best wishes, 
Guiyang Municipal Baiyun District People’s Court 
Plaintiff: Li Guozhi 
October 10, 2017 

This article has been edited by ChinaAid Assn. to correct certain grammatical errors, etc. but great care has been taken to preserve its substance and ideas expressed by the Guiyang Municipal Baiyun District People’s Court’s original document.

ChinaAid Media Team
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