China Aid Association
Commentary by Zan Aizong
The Xiaoshan religious case is already in its the third year since the incident occurred in July 2006. Wang Weiliang and Shen Zhuke, the Christians who were sentenced to imprisonment in the case are the people who received the most serious sentences. (Six other people were lightly sentenced and have been released one after another.) They are still held at a prison in the western suburb of Hangzhou.
Wang Weiliang is the only person who has not had his sentence commuted, because he is treated as a “political prisoner.” Lu Gengsong, an independent writer from Hangzhou, is also a political prisoner in the same prison.
Wang Weiliang is accused of publishing “incendiary articles” online and the charge against Lu Gengsong is also “agitation.” However, the latter has one more word on the charge against him –“subversion.” In the prison in the western suburb, the meeting days for family members of Wang Weiliang and Lu Gengsong are arranged independently and are very different from the crowded meeting days for family members of other inmates.
Wang Weiliang worked for the ministry of Dangshanwan Christian Church of Xiaoshan. He was not involved in the so-called “illegal” construction of the Dangshanwan Christian Church on July 29, 2006, nor is he a witness of the government’s forcible demolition of the church being built at the time. He only joined the church and its congregation in appealing to the authorities and prayers and called for all parties involved in the matter to restrain themselves and seek the wisest solution. He also handwrote a statement of suggestions and his purpose was to solve differences and avoid conflicts. Little did he anticipate that someone published these words online, which became the evidence that helped sentence him to three years in prison.
The greatest thing about Christianity is Christians love their mortal enemies — we can also say they do not have mortal enemies. They pray for their enemies because they have Jesus Christ as their example who said in front of His mortal enemies: “for they know not what they do.”
In Wang Weiliang’s articles, there are no words that can incite the people or disrupt the public order. However, the government, with its mighty absolute power, regards different opinions as hostility without allowing any explanations. They cannot tolerate dissent and rudely demolished the church. They also detained the Christian leaders and believers and sentenced them to prison, resulting in the Xiaoshan religious case known to peoples all over the world.
As a Christian, Wang Weiliang would not deny that he really publicly appealed to the people. However, admitting this fact does not mean he should plead guilty. Yet, there is a common practice in Chinese prisons that one of the key conditions to the reduction of sentence is pleading guilty. That is to say, it is not enough just to admit what one has done, but one also has to plead guilty. Those who plead guilty can have their sentence commuted while those who do not plead guilty have to continue to suffer in the prison.
Such a policy does not fit well with the universally accepted values. Crime is defined as a physical act committed by a human being for which he or she should be held liable physically. He or she should not be held liable for their ideologies and punished thereon. A common practice in the current prison system in China is to require the prisoners to plead guilty and declare where he stands. This is not beneficial for his or her reformation. If he is really guilty, being sentenced is a penalty for which he deserves; however, if he is innocent and is wronged and if a false charge is forced on an innocent person and the government requires that he must plead guilty before his sentence can be commuted, this would be a great wrong. Ideological coercion is not supported by any legal basis. I think the people in control might as well come up with wiser ways. For example, if the prisoner agrees to accept the reformation in the prison, abide by and respect the law and get along with others, this is a merit to the society in general and a system of credits in merits should be established on this module. Once a prisoner accumulates a certain number of credits, it is very appropriate to commute his or her sentence based on the merits while the government should not require that the prisoner to plead guilty before he or she can have a commuted sentence. In the great majority of countries in the West, the prisoner, upon entering the prison, is given a free copy of the Bible, so that the prisoner who has taken a wrong step in life can turn over a new leaf through their religious belief. At the same time, this also guarantees he or she can enjoy in the prison the human rights endowed by God in the freedom of religious belief. However, in China, Bibles published by China Christian Council are not considered a publication for public circulation and do not meet the requirements of the prison system there. It is very hard to get copies of these Bible into the prisons. For Wang Weiliang who is a Christian, not being able to read the Bible and pray on Sabbath day is doubtlessly another penalty in addition to the imprisonment. This rule is also a barrier to political prisoners like Lu Gengsong.
I say here today that the Xiaoshan religious case is not yet over based on the fact that Wang Weiliang and Shen Zhuke are still not yet released. In addition to this, Dangshan Christian Church has not had an opportunity to rebuild a church legally after its church was forcibly demolished in 2006. Though there are independent churches and house churches in most places in Zhejiang, construction of church buildings still faces many restrictions in law and government regulations. When the freedom of religious belief written on paper is to be implemented in actual actions, there is always a big difference between what is written and what is done.
To request permission to reproduce ChinaAid photos and/or information, please contact [email protected].
Write an encouraging letter to Wang Weiliang.
View a video of the Dangshanwan Christian Church demolition.
China Aid Contacts
Rachel Ritchie, English Media Director
Cell: (432) 553-1080 | Office: 1+ (888) 889-7757 | Other: (432) 689-6985
Email: [email protected]