Religious persecution in China has reached the point that distributing Bibles is earning a three-year prison sentence.
Cai Zhuohua, 34, a Beijing underground church leader, was sentenced yesterday to three years in prison for distributing Bibles and other Christian materials.
His wife, Xiao Yunfei, got two years, and her brother Xiao Gaowen was sentenced to 18 months by the Haidian Lower People’s Court in Beijing.
They were arrested September 2004, said the China Aid Association of Midland, Texas. They were accused of distributing 200,000 Bibles and other materials as part of an unregistered house church Mr. Cai oversaw for 10 years.
It is the latest in a long string of escalating arrests and harassment Chinese Christians have undergone in recent years.
“This is not an acceptable result,” said China Aid President Bob Fu. “We urge President Bush to use his upcoming visit to China to address this serious religious-persecution case.”
Mr. Bush will meet with leaders in Beijing during a Nov. 19-21 visit.
“You bet when the president goes to Asia next week, he will continue to talk about the importance of promoting human rights and human dignity for all,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday.
In a round-table interview yesterday with Asian journalists, Mr. Bush said he “will continue to remind President Hu [Jintao] about, for example, my personal faith and the belief that people should be allowed to worship freely.
“A vibrant, whole society is one that recognizes that certain freedoms are inherent and need to be part of a complete society,” Mr. Bush said of the message he would give China’s communist leaders.
Mr. Bush meets today with the Dalai Lama. The 70-year-old Tibetan religious leader, in town for several conferences about meditation and neuroscience, slammed his native country at a press conference yesterday for “very, very repressive” policies.
Other religious groups claim persecution similar to that suffered by the Tibetan Buddhists represented by the Dalai Lama.
Friends of Falun Gong, a religious movement espousing meditative practices, say that more than 100,000 of its adherents have been detained, 20,000 sent to labor camps without trial and at least 253 members died from torture and beatings while in prison.
Imprisoned Falun Gong and Christians are forced to manufacture Christmas lights for export, according to Friends of Falun Gong and human rights activist Harry Wu.
Concerned Women for America, a Christian group, yesterday posted statements by Mr. Wu on its Web site (www.cwfa.org) reminding readers that “we never stop to think about where and under what conditions those pretty lights were made. Well, the truth is not so pretty.”
In March, a law took effect in China mandating severe reprisals for house churches that have not registered with the government.
Visiting American seminarians were snatched up Aug. 2 during a police raid at a house church in China’s Hubei province. On Aug. 15, five more were arrested at a house church gathering in the Henan province.
The Americans were released, but 42 Chinese — members of the often-persecuted South China Church — were not so fortunate. Several were tortured, China Aid said, but most were released by Aug. 13, mainly because of a pending visit by members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
The commission listed China as one of the world’s eight worst violators of religious freedom yesterday in its annual report to Congress. China has occupied a top spot on the agency’s list since 1999.
“Underground Christian groups, Muslim Uighurs, Tibetan Buddhists, and members of groups that the government considered ‘cults’ were subjected to increased government scrutiny,” the report said. “Security officials used threats, demolition of unregistered property, extortion, interrogation, detention, and at times beatings and torture to harass leaders of unauthorized groups and their followers.”
For instance, Gong Shengliang, pastor of South China Church, was arrested in 2001 on trumped-up rape charges, human rights groups say. He languishes near death in Hubei’s Hong Shan Prison.
Bill Sammon contributed to this report.