China — A key leader of
the Chinese House Church Alliance (CHCA) has been sentenced to two years in a
labor camp as part of a crackdown on illegal worship, ChinaAid reported July
Pastor Shi Enhao, deputy chairman of CHCA, was sentenced to “re-education
through labor” — an extrajudicial punishment that requires no conviction or
trial — because of his position in an influential umbrella group of Chinese
ChinaAid, a group that monitors religious freedom in China,
reported that Shi’s current charge is for “illegal meetings and illegal
organizing of venues for religious meetings.”
To become legal, Chinese churches must be registered with the government and
join the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. But with registration comes
restrictions on Sunday School, baptisms for minors and evangelism, said Bob Fu,
president and founder of ChinaAid.
According to ChinaAid, the labor camp sentence is not the first police action
against Shi in Suqian City,
which is 500 miles south of Beijing
and home to more than 5 million people. The pastor was detained by police March
31 and held for 12 days.
Then, the Suqian Public Security Bureau detained the pastor June 21 for “suspicion
of using superstition to undermine national law enforcement,” ChinaAid
reported, noting that criminal detention is the first step in a legal process
that usually ends in a criminal offense and a prison sentence.
Shi’s story unfolds against the backdrop of Shouwang
Church, with nearly 1,000 members
in Beijing, which has been
attempting to meet outdoors despite persecution since April. Some have
criticized Shouwang Church
for trying to continue meeting as one large congregation instead of breaking up
into smaller house churches like CHCA has done.
Shi’s church, with a congregation of several thousand, is actually larger than
Shouwang but the CHCA members have been meeting in multiple locations across
the city in an attempt to pass under the police’s radar. However, ChinaAid
noted, Shi’s sentence shows that contrary to critics of Shouwang, investigation
and punishment are not limited to large one-site churches.
CHCA has already faced persecution from the Chinese government for worshipping
illegally. The Domestic Security Protection Department ordered CHCA to stop
meeting and confiscated the umbrella group’s car, musical instruments, choir
robes and 140,000 yuan — the equivalent to more than $21,000 — in donations,
according to ChinaAid.
Shi’s family has served the church in China
for four generations, and since the investigation of illegal churches his three
daughters and their husbands also have been threatened by police, ChinaAid
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Jones is a student at Union
University in Jackson,
Tenn., and an intern with Baptist Press.)