|Huoshi Church Pastor Su Tianfu, pictured
above, was fined $1,096,499.33 along
with his colleague, Pastor Yang Hua.
(Guiyang, Guizhou—Jan. 30, 2018) Just a few weeks after authorities in China’s Guizhou province fined two house church pastors more than $1,000,000 for collecting offerings, they closed the church down and began confiscating its property.
Huoshi Church was the largest unregistered church in Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou, gathering hundreds of attendees since its founding in 2009. At first, the government maintained a peaceful relationship with them, receiving reports of their activities, and mostly permitted them to hold services unhindered. However, following a strong government presence at the opening of their church building in 2014, officials hounded the church throughout 2015, arresting many of its members, including Pastor Yang Hua and accountant Zhang Xiuhong.
In May 2017, officials fined the still-imprisoned Yang and his colleague, Pastor Su Tianfu, 7,053,710.68 yuan ($1,096,499.33 USD) for collecting the same amount in church offerings, which the authorities said was “illegal income.” Yang and Su appealed several times, maintaining that church members free donated the offerings and that the church only used it on church-related expenses, not for personal gains. After Baiyun District Court heard their case late last year, it ruled against them and ordered that they pay the fine, and, a few weeks later, issued a notice that forcibly closed the church.
On Jan. 19, the Christians reported that they have already begun the process of confiscating its property, even though the order to do so came from an executive branch of the court and does not constitute a court order. Appealing will not stop this process, since confiscations can continue during appeal procedures.
During the more than two years since Yang entered police custody, he has been tortured, heard his family threatened, and told that officials could easily kill him. He also suffered from Henoch-Schonlein Purpura, a blood vessel disorder, that was mistreated by prison doctors until he could no longer walk from the pain. When he was finally permitted to go to a hospital, a physician there termed his condition “critical.”
Officials temporarily transferred him to another prison, where he recuperated.
Yang was originally taken into police custody on Dec. 9, 2015, after he attempted to prevent officials from confiscating a church hard drive. He was originally accused of “the crime of obstructing justice” and “gathering a crowd to disturb public order,” for which he received two consecutive, five-day detention sentences. However, on Dec. 20, 2015—his release day—officials instead transferred him to criminal detention, alleging he had “illegally possessed state secrets.” A month later, that charge was changed to “divulging state secrets,” and the government formally arrested him. After a trial on Dec. 26, 2016, the local court sentenced him to two-and-a-half years in jail.
ChinaAid exposes abuses, such as those suffered by Su and Yang, in order to stand in solidarity with persecuted Christians and promote religious freedom, human rights, and rule of law.