China Aid Association
(Lieshan, Anhui—March 5, 2012) Local authorities in coastal China’s Anhui province illegally and secretly tore down a quarter-century-old government-approved church in the dead of night, then apparently drugged church leaders into signing documents agreeing to its demolition, ChinaAid has learned.
At 7 a.m. on Feb. 3, members of the Xin’an Three-Self Church in Lieshan town, in the city of Huaibei’s Lieshan district, heard that their church had been destroyed and rushed to the site, only to find that the local government had leveled the 520-square-meter (5,600-square-foot) structure to the ground in the night. Shocked, some church members started wailing and crying.
After days of negotiations with the local government, local officials on Feb. 14 at about 10:30 a.m. suddenly produced two documents for church representatives to sign: Agreement on proposals about the church building settlement” and “Agreement on the expropriation, compensation and settlement of houses by Huibei Normal University and Administration Service Center.” The church representatives did not agree with the terms laid out in the documents and refused to sign them. But after drinking some tea poured by one of the government officials, the church representatives suddenly became confused and, not acting of their own volition, they signed the documents. The effects of the tea did not wear off until that evening.
The next day at 8:20 a.m. , five members of the church’s management team—Zhang Sijin, Zhang Cuihua, Ma Jie, Ding Shuyun, and Sun Yunlan—arrived at the town government offices to retrieve the documents that had been signed the day before but had not yet been endorsed with official seals. Government officials refused their request, but agreed to let them read the documents. That’s when church leaders discovered that the details of the negotiated compensation had not been included in the document. The church representatives argued strongly, citing the facts of the matter, but were verbally abused by the government officials.
In the following weeks, the church has continued to try to negotiate with the government, determined to protect its rights according to the law. Christian lawyers have now taken up the case, to protect the rights and interests of this Three-Self church according to the law.
ChinaAid will monitor the developments in this case and report on its progress.
The Xin’an Christian Three-self Church was located at Dashantou Brigade 6 in Fenghuang village. The area was a floodplain unsuitable for either human habitation or farming. When the government reformed its policies on religion, this church was among the first 13 approved by the Suixi county government. The former Wangzhuang Village Committee also granted permission to put this parcel of land … to long-term use. All believers, regardless of gender or age, were mobilized to participate in building this church, whether through manpower, providing other help or with financial investment.
Expending great effort, they first built a flood discharge culvert and a floodwall and laid a cover and a gigantic metal grate, then leveled the ground and started to build the church building.
The village chief at the time, Li Liangguang, generously supported the effort, donating beams, wood planks, etc. Residents in the area also helped. After toiling and laboring together for several months, believers built a nine-room main building, three front rooms, two annex rooms, as well as the compound walls, bathrooms, a stairway, and an eight-meter (26-foot) long , five-meter (16.5-foot) wide cement walkway in front of the church. The church buildings totaled 520 square meters (5,600square feet) land measuring 1,590 square meters (0.4 acres).
Our Xin’an Christian Church building was illegally demolished by Lieshan government the night of Feb. 2, 2012. We discovered this at 7 a.m. on Feb. 3, 2012. When believers got word and arrived at the church site, the church building had been reduced to rubble. Believers couldn’t stop crying and passersby stopped to watch and comment. The church management staff had not received any form of notification from the town government’s demolition and relocation office before the demolition took place. Therefore, this kind of forcible church demolition under cover of night is an illegal practice that has tainted the image of the Communist Party and the government and violated the State Council’s regulations on religious affairs.
After this incident, we went to the town government demanding compensation, but the government would not discuss the issue. At about 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 14, 2012, we received seven or eight phone calls from the government saying that they wanted to discuss compensation terms. Four members of our church management team, Zhang Sijin, Zhang Cuihua, Majie, and Zhang Guanglian, went to the town government. To their surprise, the government produced two documents of consent, namely “Agreement on proposals about the church building settlement” and “Agreement on the expropriation, compensation and settlement of houses by Huibei Normal University and Administration Service Center”. The church had already been demolished and the documents that were now produced were about appraising value of the church property.
The government, as the party that illegally encroached on church property used for legal religious activities, should make compensation according to the law. Therefore, we refused to sign the documents of consent. The government agents coerced and lied to us throughout the negotiation process, made oral promises about compensations, but refused to put them down in written form. Since we thought their oral promises about compensations were unsatisfactory, we said we would not agree to sign. They rejected all the requests we made. Then Zhang Guangjian brought us tea. After we drank the tea, the deputy director of Xin’an residential district showed us two documents of consent and asked us to sign; there was only one copy of the document. At this very moment, we suddenly felt dizzy and confused. Without even reading the terms in the documents, we just automatically signed them and put our fingerprints on them. What was even more absurd is that legally both parties should receive a copy of the documents to render the consent valid. However, the government as Party A only produced one copy and made us as Party B sign it. They should have signed it too, but they did not. The signed documents were left with the town government and we did not regain our senses until later at night.
The next day, that is Feb. 15, 2012, at about 8:20a.m., five members of our church management team, i.e. Zhang Sijin, Zhang Cuihua, Ma Jie, Ding Shuyun, and Sun Yunlan went the town government to get back the documents of consent signed but not endorsed with a seal the day before, but the government officials refused the request. We asked to read the terms of the documents and found that no specific stipulations on compensation were contained in the documents. We realized that this document was legally invalid, so we wrote at the signature line “We oppose the illegal and secret church demolition” to show that we disagreed with what had been done to us. Zhang Guangchen, the director of village committee of Xin’an residential district, stood up and hurled verbal abuse at Zhang Sijin, calling him names like “bear cub”, “old junk”, “promise-breaker”, etc., and looked like he was about to beat him up; his demeanor was extremely violent. Xu Biao, the head of Lieshan’s organization department, forced us to take out our church seal, snatched it from the hand of our church management staffer Ding Shuyun, and stamped the documents of consent with it. Everything they did was to coerce, threaten and force us to comply and there was no peaceful arbitration and negotiation towards consent.
This is my testimony of these events and all of it is true.
Feb. 16, 2012