|Li Fangping filed a petition for Pastor Zhang
Shaojie’s case on Nov. 4, 2014. (Photo from
Zhang “Shanshan” Lingxin.)
China Aid Association
(Nanle County, Henan—Nov. 12, 2014) All within a week, Zhang “Shanshan” Lingxin and two other women were abducted by Nanle County officials in central China and are still being held in a black jail, believers are reporting the imminent demolition of the Nanle County Christian Church, and Pastor Zhang Shaojie’s lawyer has submitted a formal petition.
Pastor Zhang Shaojie’s daughter Zhang “Shanshan” Lingxin was abducted by plainclothes officer from in front of her aunt Zhang Cuijian’s store on Nov. 5 when she went to get groceries. Another aunt, Zhang Cuixia, told China Aid that she was on the phone with her sister Zhang Cuijian shortly after Shanshan was detained. According to Zhang Cuixia, Zhang Cuijian watched from inside her store as officers jumped out of two unmarked cars and kidnapped Shanshan. Zhang Cuijian was later taken into custody as well.
“I just had a call with my sister Zhang Cuijian,” Zhang Cuixia told China Aid on Nov. 5. “Only a few words into the conversation, people from the county government also took her away. I just called her, and the phone was off.”
Shanshan’s husband first reported the situation to Sky News, whom he told Shanshan had been in touch with him through a phone call and several text messages, in which she relayed that she was being held in the “Nanle Hotel” and that her aunt Zhang Cuijian and Fan Ruizhen, the woman who was leading the church in Pastor Zhang’s absence, had also been taken and were being held in the same hotel.
“After she was taken away on that day, we received a notice,” Shanshan’s husband, Hah CheeChuan, said. “After [Shanshan’s initial messages,] there was no news of her for a time. In the afternoon, she again sent me a message saying that she was safe and that her aunt and Fan Ruizhen were also there. Then, she asked us not to worry about them and asked me to take good care of my family.”
“Shanshan is confined in one room. Her aunt and Ruizhen are confined in another room,” Hah said. “I’ve thought about [looking for them at the hotel] and have talked with [Shanshan]. She said that there are many doors one has to go through to see [her and the others]. We know her location. If we look for them and [the government] immediately transfers them to other places, we would have trouble. She is at the Nanle Hotel and is safe there so we feel at ease.”
“I guess this has something to do with Zhang Shaojie’s petition,” Zhang Cuixia said, referring to her brother’s official petition, which was submitted on Nov. 4, the day before the abductions. “All the petition materials were signed by Shanshan.
Lawyer Li Fangping and Shanshan visited the Nanle County People’s Court to submit Pastor Zhang’s formal petition on Nov. 4.
“There were three staff members at the window in the lobby handling cases,” Shanshan said on Nov. 4. “After we handed over the petition materials, they read that the files were for Zhang Shaojie. The immediately asked us to wait for a moment so they could get instructions from their leaders. [The man who took the files] went to another office with the materials. When he came back, he said he would have to find the chief judge and the director of the court, and he handed us back the materials…
“After a while, a man came out. He said that his name is Zhao and that he is the chief judge. He took our materials. After about half an hour, the court called Li and said that we could give the materials directly to the Puyang Municipal Intermediate Court and that there was no need for the Nanle County People’s Court to transfer the material [to Puyang].”
Li filed the petition at the Puyang Municipal Intermediate Court despite officials’ repeated attempts to dissuade Pastor Zhang’s efforts, threatening his family and potential for parole should he go through with the petition. “Last time I met with Zhang Shaojie, he insisted on the petition. He also said that while he was in Neihuang Prison, people related to the case tried to talk him out of the petition. There were threats hidden in their words that the petition would do him no good. When the court accepted our materials, we can say the process has formally started,” Li said.
Authorities also pressured Shanshan to talk her father out of petitioning the outcome of his case. However, the family refused to back down. On Oct. 24, the Nanle County People’s Court posted a notice near the Zhang family home, ordering the family to move out by Oct. 26 due to Pastor Zhang’s failure to pay 700,000 Yuan (U.S. $114,000) in restitution for his fraud charge.
Zhang Weiqiang, Pastor Zhang’s 80-year-old father, left Nanle County on Oct. 26 to make the journey to Beijing to petition authorities there in hopes of reversing the Nanle County People’s Court’s decision to force the family out of their home.
“He immediately came back after he submitted the petition materials in Beijing,” Shanshan said on Nov. 4. “All the people in our village and in our county went to look for him in Beijing. They went there during the day, and my grandpa came back in the evening. They asked [us] where my grandpa had gone. [When he returned], they came to greet my grandpa and said something like ‘elderly people should not travel too far away from home, especially when he is in poor health and when it is cold out.”
Even before the abduction of Shanshan, Zhang Cuijian and Fan Ruizhen, who officials said is being held for a few days for “study,” worshippers were reporting that the demolition of Nanle County Christian Church’s main building was imminent. Now, believers say they are worried that the government will use Fan’s absence as an opportunity to demolish the building.
“They are preparing to demolish the building, which is our Central Hall,” Shanshan said on Nov. 4. “Perhaps they will wait until the [Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings] are over. A few days ago, insiders said that the government had held a meeting, and they are looking for an opportunity to demolish the building.”
This year’s APEC meetings began on Nov. 5, the day Shanshan and the other women were kidnapped, which led some to speculate that they were detained to keep them quiet while international leaders were in China. The meetings concluded yesterday; at press time, there were no reports of actions by the Nanle County government against the church.
“Now, we want church members to live in the church building; we want to stay in the church,” Zhang Cuixia said. “If the Central Hall is demolished, we won’t have a place to gather together.”
The church has previously been targeted by the government by being listed as condemned in both December 2013 and April 2014. However, both times believers took back the church.
It also appears that the abduction of Shanshan and the other women wasn’t enough intimidation to satisfy officials. Now authorities are searching for two other church members and guard Zhang Cuixia’s home day-and-night.
“Now, wherever I go, they are following me. They said there is a conference going on in Beijing, and they are afraid that we will go there to petition higher authorities. There are still vehicles outside my house. Six people watch over my house, they are there 24 hours a day in several shifts,” Zhang Cuixia said.
Li Bianling, Zhao Guoli’s wife, told China Aid that government employees began looking for her husband on Nov. 5. “This morning, as soon as he got out the door, people from the town government began to stalk him. They only did so this morning. They people who came said their superiors want them to visit Zhao.”
Pastor Zhang Shaojie is currently serving a 12-year sentence in the Henan No. 2 Prison after being convicted of “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order” and fraud, a charge which many believe to be fabricated, largely in part to the court’s refusal to allow Zhang’s lawyers to bring in Li Cairen, the alleged fraud victim, as a witness. Pastor Zhang was detained on Nov. 16, 2013, when authorities tricked him into meeting with them at his church. More than 20 church members were also detained between Nov. 15-17. Those detained throughout the persecution, which has been ongoing since November 2013, include Zhang “Esther” Huixin, Zhang Shanshan, Fan Ruiling, Fan Ruizhen, Zhang Cuijuan, Zhang Cuijian, Zhao Guoli, Wu Guishan, and many others.
The persecution against the Nanle County Christian Church began after Zhang Shaojie got into a dispute with Nanle County Party Secretary Huang Shouxi over the reconstruction of the church’s central hall. Pastor Zhang demanded that Huang uphold his predecessor’s promise that the Three-Self church be able to build on a particular tract of land. When Huang refused to grant permission for the reconstruction, church members traveled to Beijing to petition authorities there for a more favorable result.