Chinese authority has arrested a house church pastor in China’s Hunan province, accusing him of “inciting subversion of state power” after he refused to join the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s Three-Self Patriotic Association.
Pastor Zhao Huaiguo, the founder of Bethel Church, was arrested on April 2 in China’s Hunan province, after being criminally detained since March 14 for inciting subversion of state power. His whereabouts are unknown, Radio Free Asia reports.
His wife, Zhang Xinghong, told the outlet that after her husband was criminally detained, the state security personnel told her that the reason for his arrest was due to his re-posting of messages about the coronavirus pandemic.
Authorities accused him of using VPN software to avoid the Great Firewall and sharing political content, including what happened in Wuhan, the epicenter of the disease.
Zhang told RFA that before her husband was arrested, since his church was founded in 2007, he was asked multiple times to join the state-vetted church Three-Self Patriotic Movement, to which he never agreed.
A day after his arrest, six police officers went to Bethel Church where they confiscated 480 books, including study tools, handouts, and copies of biblical materials, claiming the materials were illegal and without publication permission.
Zhang told China Aid, “Recently, the state security personnel have visited me multiple times, asking me to authorize a local lawyer in Zhangjiajie to handle Zhao Huaiguo’s case. I was also asked to sign a statement, promising that I would not reveal the progress about his case to any reporter, nor publish his criminal detention notice and arrest warrant.”
Feeling frustrated, she added, “Last Friday, […] I was about to hire a good lawyer, but the state security told me that Zhao has already authorized a lawyer [to represent him]. I was very unhappy. I told them, ‘If you knew that his family was going to hire a lawyer, why did you ask him to hire one?’ I told them I would not accept the lawyer hired by him, including local lawyer from Zhangjiajie,” Christian Post reports.
The Chinese government often pressures prisoners of conscience to use state-appointed or recommended lawyers, as an incentive for reduction of sentences. Yet many have refused, fearing that these lawyers serve only the state’s interest, not theirs, International Christian Concern noted.
Zhao Huaiguo founded Bethel Church in Cili, near the city of Zhangjiajie (Hunan) in 2007. Last year, the church was banned, with the government saying Zhao illegally preached and distributed Christian pamphlets.
From March to December of last year, the public security police repeatedly harassed the church, taking its preachers in for questioning and forcing them to sign an agreement that they would not preach or hold any more religious activities.
“[Zhao] was accused of proselytizing and distributing Gospel tracts, which were considered illegal acts. After the Lunar New Year last year, the religious bureau forced the church to disperse, to which it refused. The official ban arrived last April,” a local Christian previously told China Aid.
In the past year, Chinese authorities have shut down a number of well-known churches, including Rongguili Church in Guangzhou, Xunsiding Church in Xiamen, and the 5,000-member Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, China.
Open Doors USA’s World Watch List ranks China as one of the worst countries in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians. The organization notes that all churches are perceived as a threat if they become too large, too political or invite foreign guests.