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Beijing House Church Leader Trial Date Set

Beijing House Church Leader Trial Date Set

A Chinese persecution watchdog group announced yesterday that the trial date for prominent house church pastor Cai Zhuohua has been set nearly 10 months after his arrest last September.

In a statement released on July 5, the China Aid Association (CAA) reported that Cai, along with his wife Xiao Yunfei and two other family members, would be tried at 9:00 a.m. on July 7, 2005 at the People’s Court of Haidian District in Beijing.

According to a copy of the prosecution papers obtained by CAA, Cai, his wife and his brother-in-law will be prosecuted on the grounds of “illegal business management” and for allegedly printing over 200,000 copies of Christian literature. 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.

Those who will be defending Cai believe the case is one of religious persecution under the pretext of “illegal business management.”

Although CAA reported last year that authorities had confiscated some 200,000 copies of the Bible and other Christian literature in a storage room managed by Cai, sources close to one of Cai’s churches said the confiscated materials were solely for internal house church-use and that Cai made no profit off them.

CAA reports that nine prominent lawyers and legal scholars volunteered to defend Cai because of his pastoral leadership at a Beijing house church. Prior to his arrest, Cai reportedly ministered to six house churches in Beijing. Among those who will be defending Cai is Professor Fan Yafeng, who is currently an associate researcher at the Institute of Studies on Law in China’s Academy of Social Sciences.

“This will be a true litmus test for the Beijing government’s religious freedom claims,” said Bob Fu, President of CAA and a former coworker of Cai. “Given the fact that 2008 Olympics will be held in Beijing, the international community has an obligation to demand the Beijing government show the true spirit of the rule of law and respect of religious freedom for ordinary citizens like Pastor Cai.”

Although China implemented new regulations earlier this year that the government says will protect freedom of faith, critics contend that the broad guidelines could instead be used to persecute religious groups deemed troublesome by authorities.

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