15 February 2017 Zhang Xiuhong, the former deacon of Living Stone Church,
Guizhou province, was sentenced to five years in prison. Zhang was first
arrested in July 2015 and was held in detention for a year and a half before
standing trial on 23 January 2017.
In late July 2015,
Zhang Xiuhong, the presiding deacon of Living Stone Church, was stopped and
hauled from her car as she was driving near the church building. One of the
assailants climbed into her car and drove away.
Zhang’s house was later
raided, her computers, USB drives and hard drives confiscated, and her husband
taken into custody, leaving his 80-year-old mother and three-year-old adopted
daughter alone in the house. The next day her husband was released, and Zhang
was subsequently charged with ‘illegal business operations’. However, her
interrogators’ questions mainly focused on the church, its pastors and other
core members, rather than her business activities.
Zhang Xiuhong’s sentencing
comes as part of a wider crackdown on her church. Living Stone Church, an
unregistered Protestant church with over 700 members, has experienced increasingly repressive measures by
the authorities. A “Rectification Order” received by the church on 18 November
2015 from the Nanming District City Urban Administrative and Law Enforcement
Bureau stated that the church’s use of a commercial building was illegal.
Several church members were then detained or fined in connection with the case,
and on 6 January 2017 Pastor Yang Hua was sentenced
to two and a half years in prison.
Worldwide’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “This sentence is the latest act
of arbitrary harassment against members of Living Stone church. Targeting and
confiscating the funds of the church accountant appears to be a tactic designed
to cripple an entire congregation which has been targeted by the authorities
because it refuses to register under the state-sanctioned Three Self Patriotic
Movement. Some members have also provided advice and support to other churches
facing pressure from the authorities. We call on the Chinese authorities to
release Zhang Xiuhong and Pastor Yang Hua, and to respect all Chinese citizens’
right to freedom of religion or belief.”