By Brynne Lawrence
(Midland, Texas—Aug. 18, 2015) On behalf of 1,500 Christians from local churches in the Midland-Odessa area, China Aid submitted a petition to the Chinese ambassador to America, Cui Tiankai, calling for the release of imprisoned China 18 member Zhang Shaojie. The 1,500 American Christians who signed the petition, expressed their belief that the Chinese government has illegally incarcerated Zhang and called for his immediate and unconditional release.
On Nov. 16, 2013, Chinese government officials detained Zhang, a pastor from a government-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement church in China’s central Henan province, for organizing a group of Christians to travel to Beijing and file an appeal against the government’s plans to forcibly take land previously promised to the church. The authorities convicted Zhang on July 4, 2014, of “gathering a crowd to disturb public order” and a fabricated fraud charge and sentenced him to 12 years in prison.
In response to learning of this injustice, local Christians requested that China Aid assist in authoring a petition to send to Ambassador Cui that declared Zhang’s treatment a violation of basic human rights.
The petition, which can be read below, highlighted deep concern regarding China’s refusal to abide by international human rights laws. It stated that no person should be denied the right to freedom of religion, in accordance with the U.N.’s Declaration of Human Rights and the Chinese constitution.
Additionally, the letter expressed worry that Zhang’s arrest implicates unwarranted government hostility towards Chinese churches: “Due to the nature of the accusations made against Pastor Zhang and what appears to be a corrupt judicial system … some Chinese government officials are engaging in a systematic campaign to persecute the Christian Church in China.”
The petition, which can be read below, concluded by urging the Chinese government to immediately release Zhang and drop all criminal charges against him. A similar request was made in a Congressional letter sent to Ambassador Cui by 32 Members of Congress in September of 2014.
Click here to read the petition with all 1500 signatures.
Dear Ambassador Cui Tiankai,
As American Christians, we write to raise the case of Pastor Zhang Shaojie of the Nanle County Christian Church in Henan province, who is currently serving a 12-year sentence for unsubstantiated charges, of which we believe he is innocent.
Specifically, it is our understanding that Pastor Zhang has been falsely accused, treated unfairly, and most importantly that the actions of the Nanle government authorities and court proceedings, including his appeal trial violated Chinese criminal law. Due to the nature of the accusations made against Pastor Zhang and what appears to be a co!”!”upt judicial system, we fear that some Chinese government officials are engaging in a systematic campaign to persecute the Christian Church in China.
Pastor Zhang’s family, both residing in China and the United States, and those Americans who are becoming more familiar with his case, are deeply concerned for Pastor Zhang and the precedent his case may set for other Christians and faith leaders in China. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the case lies in the fact that the Nanle County Christian Church is an officially registered church with the Chinese government.
As Christians first, and Americans second, we share a kinship with Pastor Zhang and other Christians in China who may be persecuted for their beliefs. As Americans, and most importantly human beings, we value the freedom ofreligion as a basic human right, as enshrined in Article 18 of the U.N.’s Declaration of Human Rights, the Chinese Constitution, and the treaties and conventions that China has signed and ratified.
For these reasons, we write to align ourselves with the concerns expressed by the U.S. Government, including statements made by Secretary of State John Kerry, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and 32 Members of the United States Congress who sent the Embassy a letter on Pastor Zhang’s case in September of 2014.
Thus, we respectfully request that the Chinese government immediately release Pastor Zhang, and drop all the charges made against him, his family, and the church members of the Nanle County Christian Church.
Thank you for your consideration.