Churchgoers, Lawyers Beaten on Christmas Eve in China, Says Wife of Imprisoned Pastor

Supporters of an imprisoned pastor in China were reportedly beaten by hired thugs on Christmas Eve in the country's Henan Province, the pastor's wife told reporters Tuesday.

Wang Fengrui, wife of imprisoned Pastor Zhang Shaojie, told the Associated Press that over a dozen hired thugs reportedly beat human rights lawyers and churchgoers as they left her home in Henan on Christmas Eve. The woman's husband, Pastor Zhang Shaojie, has been imprisoned by Chinese authorities since mid-November. Zhang is the leader of a government-approved Christian church and was arrested last month under the vague charges of obstructing government justice.

"About 20 or so people had staked out the house overnight with lights and bonfires, and they used violence to prevent some of us from leaving, grabbing their clothes, taking their possessions such as bank cards and beating them," the pastor's lawyer, Xia Jun, said in a recent interview with the Associated Press regarding the Christmas Eve attack. The churchgoers and lawyers had reportedly planned a prayer meeting for the pastor at his wife's home for Monday night, but when they were prevented by authorities, they gathered at the home on Tuesday night instead, which is when they were attacked by the thugs.

The lawyers and churchgoers reportedly called the local police station to receive help and protection from the local thug mob that ultimately grew to 40 attackers. The police station did not send help and later said they had no knowledge of Tuesday's incident.

Earlier in December, 15 human rights lawyers traveled to visit the imprisoned pastor where he is being held in Nanle county in Henan, only to be turned away from authorities. The lawyers then staged a hunger strike to protest Zhang's detainment, arguing that the police were violating China's law that permits lawyers to speak to their clients.

One lawyer, Liu Weiguo, told AP that he believes Zhang is actually being imprisoned because he refused to give up his congregation's land to the government. The government had reportedly demanded the pastor give up the land that had already been lawfully given to him.

"We strongly believe that this is a clear case of persecution of a religious group," Liu said in a previous phone interview with AP. Some of the pastor's aids at the church were also arrested in mid-November, and continue to be detained.

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