A prominent China house church leader may face an extremely harsh sentence if convicted in his upcoming trial, a persecution watchdog group reported. In a news release issued on Thursday, the Pennsylvania-based China Aid Association (CAA) said that the case of Pastor Cai Zhuohua, who was apprehended in September, is part of a broader national campaign against the underground church and so-called illegal religious publications that began this past June.
According to CAA, eyewitnesses say Cai, 32, was waiting at a bus stop on the morning of Sept. 11 when three plainly-clothed officers believed to be from the Department of State Security approached him and forced him into a white van. Authorities later confiscated some 200,000 copies of the Bible and other Christian literature in a storage room managed by Cai, who ministers to six house churches in Beijing.
In China, only one publisher belonging to the state-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement is allowed to publish and print a limited number of Bibles and other Christian literature each year, and the sale of these publications in public bookstores is forbidden. However, with the rapid growth in the number of Christians each year, CAA reports that Chinese house churches sometimes find printers willing to print a few Bible for extra cash rather than relying on Bible smugglers from overseas.
Though sources close to one of Cais churches said the confiscated Bibles and other Christian literature were solely for internal house church-use and pastor Cai no profit off them, Cai is still at risk for his involvement with an overseas-based Chinese-language Web site, www.aiyan.org. Aiyan.org, which carries articles about the underground church and Christianity in China, has particularly upset authorities who routinely denounce overseas involvement with the unofficial church as a tool to overthrow the communist state.
According to CAA sources, Cais case, which is being handled directly by the Department of State Security, has been labeled by the central government as the most serious case on overseas religious infiltration since the founding of the Peoples Republic of China.
Though the Associated Press reported that officials at Beijing's No. 1 Intermediate Court said they were not authorized to release any information, and that that calls to public numbers for Beijing's State Security Bureau rang unanswered; sources familiar with the case told CAA that Cai and his wife, Xiao Yunfeiwho along with her brother and sister-in-law were arrested shortly after Cais arrestmay face extremely harsh sentences because of their prominent leadership role in the Beijing house church. A source from the prosecution team also told CAA that authorities are considering convicting Cai and his wife, along with two other relatives, on criminal charges such as tax evasion or illegal business management, which could lead to life sentence.
Bob Fu, CAAs president and a former coworker of Cai, stated, All of those who know Pastor Cai over the years can testify that he and his wife are wonderful Christians with loving hearts for both the church in China and their motherland. We urge people of all faiths to take action to demand their immediate release.
Letters of protest can be sent to the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC at the following address:
Ambassador Yang Jiechi
Embassy of the Peoples Republic of China
2300 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC 20008
Tel:(202) 328-2500 Fax:(202) 588-0032
Director of Religious Affairs: (202) 328-2512
Though the date of Cais upcoming trial has not yet been confirmed, CAA reports that the case will be tried in a Beijing court very soon. Currently Cai, his wife, and two other relatives are being held at Qinghe Detention Center in the Haidian District of Beijing. So far none of their relatives have been allowed to visit them.