The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) says its new letter writing campaign has played an important role in helping Christian prisoners to recover their freedom.
PrisonerAlert.com, a website set up by the international Christian persecution watchdog group, allows people all around the world to write to imprisoned Christians, giving them words of encouragement with various selected phrases and Scripture verses.
In addition, people are able to contact the government officials of the prisoners' respective country by the email address provided on the website.
In the most recent demonstration of its influence, Chinese house church activist Zhang Yinan was released last month after spending two years in a labor camp. The story of the labor camp detainee was featured on PrisonerAlert.com.
"About 2,700 people went on the website, looked at Brother Zhang's profile, and then composed a letter to him," said VOM spokesman Todd Nettleton in a report, according to Agape Press. "The website also translates the letters into the language of the prisoner, so his letters were in Chinese."
VOM believes the strong response of fellow Christians who participated in a letter writing campaign on Zhang's behalf played a significant role in his release, according to Nettleton.
As reported by Agape Press, Nettleton stated that VOM was not able to confirm whether these letters had actually got to Zhang, as prisoners usually are not allowed to contact outsiders. Nevertheless, he believed that even if these letters just simply got to the prison, the authorities would know that "this was a man who the world knew about and [that people] were watching how he was treated."
The letters definitely influenced the Chinese government to some extent, said Nettleton, and helped to secure the house church leader's release. Similar campaigns have helped win the release and even to save the lives of other Christian prisoners, the VOM spokesman added.
Zhang was one of several Christian prisoners featured in VOMs Prisoner Alert website. Currently, PrisonerAlert.com features the profiles of around other 16 Christian prisoners from China, Vietnam, Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia, North Korea and among others. Other than Zhang, Vietnamese Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang from Vietnam Mennonite Church and Vietnamese evangelist Than Van Truong were also released earlier this year.
Bob Fu, president of the U.S.-based Chinese Christian persecution monitoring group China Aid Association (CAA) also emphasized the significant contribution of the protest from international community leading to the release of the detained Christian leader.
"The timely release of Mr. Zhang reflects the fact that the international community can be mobilized to urge the Chinese government to honor its commitment on the rule of law and international covenants," stated Fu in a CAA statement issued on Sept. 25, the day of Zhangs release. The CAA had expressed serious concern on Zhangs case since he was arrested in September 2003.
"We urge the Chinese government to release all the prisoners of conscience like Mr. Zhang," he added.
According to the CAA, Zhang was "instructed" on what he could or could not say to the outside world after he was escorted out of the labor camp to a police station. The local Public Security Bureau (PSB) also refused to return Zhang's ID card upon his release in order to restrict his travel.
Even though it is expected that the China's Public Security Bureau will follow Zhang and monitor his activities after his release, the freed prisoner gave thanks to the letter writers and praised God for sustaining him during two difficult years in the labor camp, said Nettleton, according to Agape Press.
"Because of your prayers and God's mercy, I could come out of the prison without any resentment or hatred toward the Chinese authorities," Zhang was reported as saying. In fact, I have more compassion for those who do not know the love of God."
Prior to his arrest, the 47-year-old Christian church historian was very active in promoting the unity of the Chinese house church movement, through which he gained respect from the Christian circle. He was later arrested on the charge of "attempting to subvert the government and socialist system," the CAA reported.