Charges have been laid against 85 Christians detained about a fortnight ago in Henan province, a Hong Kong-based human rights group reported yesterday.
The 85 were among 130 members of a church in the Fangcheng area who were held on August 23 along with three Taiwan-born Chinese-American missionaries.
The Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy yesterday released a formal arrest notice dated August 25 accusing a church member named Chen Zhouniu of "using an evil cult to obstruct justice".
The centre said the indictments, written with the same language as those used against the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, were a sign authorities could increasingly use anti-cult legislation created last year to crush Falun Gong against the mainland's many unofficial "house churches".
Police in Henan's Xihua county, where the church members were detained, refused to comment on the case.
Also yesterday, the Cardinal Kung Foundation, a US-based advocate of the underground Chinese Catholic Church, said 24 Catholics were arrested last month in the southeastern province of Fujian.
A priest, Father Liu Shaozhang, was severely beaten, it said. Two nuns were released after paying a "large amount" of cash to the police, the foundation said.
Henry Chu, one of three Fangcheng missionaries detained, said the Fangcheng church was not a cult but a group of "Bible-based Christians".
Two years ago, leaders of main house churches issued a joint statement of faith to distinguish themselves from sects branded as heretical and evil cults by mainstream churches. Zhang Rongliang, leader of the Fangcheng church, also signed the statement.
Zhang was sentenced last December to re-education through labour for holding a conference to discuss Christianity. Unconfirmed reports said Zhang had been released.
The centre also released a statement by the Fangcheng church saying its members refused to join the official church because China's rules went against Biblical principles in many areas.
BEIJING -- Chinese officials have filed formal criminal charges against 85 of the 130 evangelical Christians arrested during an illegal worship service nearly two weeks ago in central China, a human rights monitoring group in Hong Kong said Monday.
All those detained at the Aug. 23 service in Henan province were members of the China Fangcheng Church, which -- with its claim to have 500,000 members -- is one of the largest of China's so-called house churches. The house churches refuse to join with the government-run Protestant Church.
Three Taiwanese American evangelicals from California, on a covert, short-term mission, were arrested along with the Chinese worshippers and deported soon afterward.
The large-scale prosecutions, if they proceed, would represent an escalation of the government's longtime war against defiant Christian groups. In recent years, although fines and temporary detentions have been used to harass house churches in many regions and cities, relatively few leaders are known to have been formally charged and sent to prison.
But last year the government issued harsher rules against "cults" after being faced with the organizing power and tenacity of the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement, which draws on Buddhism, Taoism and traditional healing theories.
The authorities have applied the cult label to a number of evangelical Christian groups, even though outside experts say their practices fall well within the Christian tradition.
Under the Chinese Constitution, citizens theoretically have freedom of religion. But China remains a one-party state, where all social organizations must have government or Communist Party sponsors, and religious groups that refuse to register with official bodies are regarded as threats to stability.
The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, the rights group in Hong Kong that reported the criminal indictments Monday, faxed to reporters a copy of an arrest notice dated Aug. 25 for one of the Fangcheng Church members, Chen Zhouniu.
It charges him with "using an evil cult to obstruct justice," which means he is likely to receive a long prison sentence.
BEIJING (AP) -- China said Tuesday that more than 100 people arrested in what human rights campaigners called a crackdown on an underground Christian church were really members of an illegal cult.
A Hong Kong-based group, the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, reported that 130 members of the Fangcheng church, including three American evangelists later deported, were rounded up in a sweep in central China's Henan province on Aug. 23.
But in his ministry's first comment on the incident, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said, "There is no such thing as the so-called Fangcheng religion in China."
Instead, Sun said leaders of a banned cult he identified as the "national scope church" illegally organized a gathering of 105 people in Henan's Xihua county on Aug. 23.
The meeting "seriously affected the normal production and lives of people in the area" and was broken up by police acting on public complaints, he said.
"The so-called national scope church is a cult organization that has been banned by the government," Sun said.
China is increasingly using anti-cult laws tightened last year during a crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual movement to target other groups, including underground churches and meditation groups that officials view as threats.
The Fangcheng church's founder, Zhang Rongliang, was sentenced to two years in a labor camp in December on charges of leading a cult.
The group is one of scores of clandestine Christian communities known as house churches because they are unable to worship in public. The officially atheistic communist government forbids worship outside state-sanctioned churches.
Sun said China protects religious freedom but "religion should be strictly differentiated from cults."
The three deported Americans admitted to breaking Chinese law, Sun said.
The three, Patricia Lan, 25, Henry Chu, 36, and his wife Sandee Lin, 29, are members of the California-based Chinese Vineyard Church Fellowship, which has been sending small teams of missionaries to China since 1994.
Sun said authorities also carried out "education work" on the more than 100 other participants at the meeting and "persuaded them to return to their hometowns."
That clashed with statements by the Information Center, which said Monday that 85 of those detained have been formally arrested on cult charges.
But Sun said foreign media reports on the crackdown "distorted the facts."
BEIJING, Sept. 4 A Hong-Kong based human rights group said today that China has indicted 85 members of a Christian sect, the China Fang-Cheng Church, in a follow-up to the recent detention of 130 of its members and the expulsion of three American missionaries.
The indictments, which almost guarantee a prison sentence, were seen as a sign that the crackdown on the Buddhist-like Falun Gong spiritual movement is being widened to suppress other kinds of unofficial religious activity throughout China as well.
The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Hong Kong said that of the 130 Fang-Cheng members detained on Aug. 23 in the central Chinese province of Henan 85 were indicted two days later. The Hong Kong center provided a copy of the indictment of one Fang-Cheng member named Chen Zhouniu, who was charged with "using an evil cult to obstruct justice."
The "evil cult" law was passed last year as part of the crackdown on Falun Gong, during which thousands of Chinese were sent to labor camps or jail.
When the law was announced in October, officials said they would not use the "evil cult" regulations to suppress China's "house churches," a movement involving millions of Catholics and Protestants that is technically illegal. China's constitution protects freedom of religion but allows Chinese to practice only five state-sanctioned faiths--Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Buddhism and Taoism--at state-sanctioned facilities.
But in recent months, the government has seemed intent on expanding the boundaries of the Falun Gong crackdown. Since last year, the state has branded 14 Christian sects "evil cults" and arrested several sect leaders. It has shuttered a massive monastery in western Sichuan province where thousands of monks had flocked to follow a charismatic Buddhist lama and intensified suppression of Catholics loyal to Rome.
The Cardinal Kung Foundation, a U.S.-based advocate of the underground Chinese Catholic Church, said today that 24 Catholics--a priest, a seminarian, 20 nuns and two laypersons--were arrested last month in the southeastern province of Fujian. The priest, the Rev. Liu Shaozhang, was severely beaten, it said.
The latest Christian "house church" crackdown is occurring in Xihua county, in Henan. There, a powerful Christian movement has been sweeping across parts of the province, fueled by the collapse of faith in communism and economic woes that turn many people's attention toward spiritual issues.
Three Americans--Henry Chu; his wife, Sandy Lin; and her friend, Patricia Lan, all Taiwan-born U.S. citizens--were detained with the 130 Fang-Cheng followers. They were expelled from China on Aug. 26 after two days in custody.
VATICAN CITY (AP) - A newly appointed auxiliary bishop in central China has been detained in the government's ongoing crackdown on the underground Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican news agency Fides said Monday.
Fides said there has been no word of Monsignor Jiang Ming Yuan of Hebei province since public security officials took him away Aug. 26. Witnesses confirmed his detention, Fides said.
The news coincides with word of another crackdown by Chinese authorities, who charged 85 members of a banned Christian church with belonging to a cult, a Hong Kong-based human rights group said Monday.
The 85 were among 130 members of the Fangcheng church detained Aug. 23 in central China's Henan province, including three Americans later released following appeals from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
China's communist leaders forbid worship in all but a state church set up in 1951 to break the Vatican's influence over the country's Catholics.
Two other clerics in Hebei, a bishop and an auxiliary bishop, have been missing since police took them away in 1996, Fides said.
The U.S.-based Cardinal Kung Foundation reported last week that police detained a priest, two nuns and 21 other Roman Catholics in the southeastern province of Fujian. Beatings in police custody had the priest bleeding and spitting blood, the foundation said.
The Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said the 85 Fangcheng church members were charged with ``using a cult to sabotage the law of the nation and the enforcement of rules.''
The Henan government's religious affairs bureau has denied that any Christians were arrested.
The anti-cult law, tightened in October during the government's crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual movement, has been used against a variety of Christian and meditation groups that officials view as threats.
The Fangcheng church is one of scores of so-called house churches that operate out of private homes to avoid restrictions on worship. China's communist government forbids organized religious activities outside state-sanctioned churches.
The Fangcheng church said China's official church politicizes religion and places allegiance to the national government above allegiance to God in violation of Christian tenets.
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