Date: November 5, 2020
|Criminal detention notice authorities issued for Pastor Zhao Huaiguo.
(Zhangjiajie,* Hunan Province — Nov. 5, 2020) On October 13, the Zhangjiajie Intermediate Court tried Pastor Zhao Huaiguo, founder of Bethel House Church in Cili County, Province, for "inciting subversion of State power." According to several church members, instead of pleading “not guilty” for Zhao, the two government-appointed attorneys “defending” him mitigated charges. In turn, the prosecutor suggested that the judge sentence Zhao Huaiguo to serve 18 months in prison. Zhang Xinghong, Zhao’s wife, his son, and three church members attended the court sessions.Zhao’s indictment alleges that he used Internet censorship circumvention software to browse overseas websites, recommended the software to church members, published doggerel to ridicule the government, and forwarded posts about Wuhan pneumonia. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) considers all these actions to seriously endanger China’s national security. Earlier this year, on March 14, the Zhangjiajie National Security Bureau criminally detained Zhao for "inciting subversion of state power.” Under the procuratorate’s** authorization, police subsequently arrested him. In April, when security bureau officials raided Zhao’s home, they confiscated 500 religious’ books. The procuratorate received Zhao’s case for reviewing and prosecuting in May.
In July, the procuratorate returned Zhao’s case to the National Security Bureau for additional investigation. Authorities repeatedly rejected the attorney Zhao’s family appointed for him. One local Christian, surnamed Wang, said “authorities worry that outside attorneys …would disclose the information of the case to the public and criticize the police for arresting people for ungrounded charges." One believer in Zhangjiajie reported:
After being arrested, Believers hope to hire Christian attorneys, but they (officials) discourage and prohibit this practice. If one charged with a crime accepts an official attorney, the attorney will not charge fees. Problems for the defendant arise, however, as official attorneys will mislead the defendant, and the defendant often follows the official attorneys’ recommendations.
In 2007, when Zhao Huaiguo left the Northeastern region and went to Cili County, Hunan Province to preach the gospel, he founded Bethel House Church. Here, where the majority of the church’s congregations are seniors, CCP officials repeatedly asked the church to join the Three-Self Church. The church repeatedly refused. In 2019, representatives from the Public Security and Religious Affairs Bureau raided Bethel House Church and destroyed church property. In late March 2019, the Cili County Religious Affairs Bureau dispatched approximately 50 personnel from the County Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs, Public Security Bureau, and Urban Management Department to forcibly enter Bethel Church, destroy church supplies, remove religious symbols and, and confiscate "Bibles," hymn books, gospel pamphlets, pianos, and other church property. Since last year, authorities have charged numerous believers in China's Anhui, Henan, and other places with various fabricated crimes, with sentences ranging from 2 to 5 years. One anonymous believer in Anhui reported that officials charge and sentence many Christians in the province for crimes such as "Picking quarrels and provoking trouble." This believer said:
Basically, most of the charges were crimes of provoking quarrels and provoking trouble. A few exceptions were crimes of illegal business operations. The court sentenced those found guilty to two and a half years or five years in prison.
All those charged with "crimes" serve as leaders of house churches. These Christians did not succumb to warnings from the Religious Affair Bureau and refused to join the Three-Self church.
*also known in Tujia language as Zhangx
**China's public prosecutor's department at various levels of court hierarchy
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