A Chinese preacher is suing police after a public session of hymn singing saw him imprisoned for 12 days for allegedly "harming social order".
By Tom Phillips, Shanghai4:24PM GMT 06 Feb 2013
Cao Nan, a 39-year-old charity worker from the southeastern city of Shenzhen, was detained on December 15 last year after meeting with other Christians in the city’s Lizhi Park to sing hymns and preach.
Mr Cao, who worships at an unofficial local ‘house-church’, said he had been accused of "falsely using the name of Christianity to harm social order" – charges he rejects.
"I am indeed a Christian," he told The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, a day after filing a lawsuit against police. "I did not pretend to be one or use the name of Christianity [falsely]. We were just singing the gospel and preaching Christian principles. I think they just found an excuse to detain people, to warn and to threaten." Mr Cao blamed much of the persecution he claimed to suffer on "national security" agents.
"They are worried that if they allow Christianity to grow, its influence will surpass that of the Communist Party, win the public’s favor and challenge the governance of the ruling party. They also have worries that it might be used by anti-China parties or countries," he said.
"These are all their worries. But in reality, Christians love the country and the people. Even if one billion Chinese people became Christians, it would not pose any threat to the current regime." Leaders of China’s Communist Party appear to think differently. In December, a US-based Christian group published what it said was a leaked directive on religion from the country’s powerful Central Committee.
The document ordered university directors to fight back against a foreign "plot" to use religion to "westernise and divide" China.
"Forceful measures" were required to counter such "infiltration", including firing "stubborn people who insist on proselytising" on university campuses, it said.
Mr Cao’s decision to take legal action against the police came one day after a senior Communist Party leader vowed that the country’s policies on religion would remain "unchanged." On Monday, Yu Zhengsheng, a member of the Politburo and the former party chief of Shanghai, told state news agency Xinhua that authorities would continue "respecting religious freedom" while "guiding religion to make it adapt to a socialist country." "Only by implementing the policy can China withstand the infiltration of overseas-based hostile forces that make use of religion," he said.
Under China’s current laws, underground house churches are outlawed and only churches controlled by Beijing’s Religious Affairs Bureau are permitted. China’s authorized Protestant churches are overseen by the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and Catholic churches fall under the control of the Catholic Patriotic Association.
The US-based Christian rights group ChinaAid accuses Beijing of conducting a sustained campaign against those who worship at unsanctioned churches.
Mr Cao said he hoped launching legal proceedings against the police would encourage other Christians to speak out against religious persecution.
"I didn’t do this for myself. As a Christian, I’m totally happy to suffer for my beliefs," he said.
"I hope we can prove that preaching the gospel is legal through legal means. I hope more and more Christians will have the courage to speak out and to help change and improve China’s moral crisis."