China Aid Association
The three—Hu Gong and Wen Weihong, and a woman named Liu Aiying—were convicted on July 25 of “forming and using a cult organization to undermine the implementation of the laws of the State” by the Yuquan District People’s Court in Hohhot, capital of the region of Inner Mongolia.
According to Article 300 of China’s Criminal Code, this crime is punishable by a “fixed-term imprisonment of not less than three years but not more than seven years.” However, Hu was sentenced to a nine-year prison term and Wen and Liu were both sentenced to eight years.
The three Christians are part of a group commonly called “the Shouters,” a controversial offshoot of the indigenous Chinese church founded by Watchman Nee in the 1920s and 1930s. A disciple of Nee, Witness Lee, left mainland China shortly before the Communist takeover in 1949 and established the Local Church in Taiwan and later expanded it to the United States.
Hu, Wen and Liu were taken into police custody on July 4, 2012 for distributing several hundred copies of evangelical literature published by the Shouters and the Local Church. They were criminally detained on July 5 and 6, 2012, formally arrested on Aug. 11, 2012, and indicted on April 10, 2013.
ChinaAid is deeply concerned about the persecution of the Shouters throughout mainland China and outraged over the Chinese government’s use of the word “cult” to persecute these believers. This case along with the seven (corrected on Oct. 12) “Shouters” Christians also sentenced for “cult” crimes in Pingdingshan, Henan province, are instances of serious religious persecution. While the Local Church has aroused controversy in the past, most Christians worldwide no longer regard the denomination as heretical, and the Chinese government is clearly using the “cult” label as a tool for its persecution of religious believers.
At the July 25 trial in Inner Mongolia, the Hohhot Intermediate People’s Court ruled that the three were “cult” believers, that the literature and CDs in their homes were “cult propaganda materials,” and that “the circumstances were particularly serious,” hence the heavy sentences. According to the defense lawyers, the “particularly serious circumstances” was simply because the three defendants were in possession of several hundred copies of Local Church literature, including a booklet published by the Christian Research Institute, an American Christian apologetics ministry that specializes in cults and heresy, about the Local Church called “We Were Wrong” that reversed the Institute’s earlier labeling of the Local Church as a “cult.”
When the three believers informed the Hohhot Intermediate People’s Court that they were going to appeal, local government departments handling the case used threats and scare tactics to prevent them from filing their appeal and blocked them from hiring lawyers to handle the appeal.
Hu’s family, however, did hire a lawyer, Zhang Peihong of the Shanghai Huiye Law Firm, who immediately contacted the Hohhot Intermediate People’s Court to request the case files. The judge told him that the case had already been dismissed by the higher court, the sentencing papers were being printed and the case would not be re-tried. This being the case, the only thing Zhang can do is to file a complaint on behalf of Hu’s family members and appeal to higher authorities.
ChinaAid has learned that the family of all three Christians are struggling financially. Hu’s wife has a meager income from cutting people’s hair, and the couple has a 24-year-old daughter. Wen’s wife is unemployed and they have a high school-aged daughter. Liu’s husband is disabled and they also have a high school-aged daughter.
ChinaAid will closely monitor the developments in the case and calls on Christians everywhere to help these three suffering families and pray for the three believers. ChinaAid urges the Chinese government to immediately end its persecution of all religious believers, respect its citizens’ constitutional right to religious freedom, and quickly rectify cases in which believers were wrongly convicted of “cult” crimes.
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