Pastor Zhang Shaojie of Nanle Country Christian Church, Henan Province, is barely alive after suffering various forms of torture in prison, according to reports from his daughter. He is currently serving a 12 year prison sentence which began in 2014.
His daughter, Esther Zhang Huixin, who is based in the US, told China Aid that Pastor Zhang is suffering both mentally and physically as a result of meagre food rations and sleep deprivation.
“They cruelly torture my father,” Esther Zhang Huixin said. “He’s unable to see the sun during the day. He’s deprived of sleep for 24 hours at a time. The prison gives him only one steamed bun a day and intentionally starves him. According to people who have been released from that prison, my father is barely alive, suffering both mentally and physically.”
Zhang Shaojie’s sister, Zhang Cuijuan, said that when she recently visited her brother in prison he was in poor condition.
“He was in a terrible mental state. His eyes burned from sleep deprivation. He said that he is forbidden to sleep during ‘strict supervision.’ He was depressed, and I had no way to help him. The prison guard held the phone throughout our entire conversation and we were forbidden to talk about his case.”
In summer 2014, Pastor Zhang Shaojie was sentenced to 12 years in prison and given a 100,000 RMB fine for ‘fraud’ and for ‘gathering a crowd to disturb public order’. He was detained without formal documentation in November 2013, along with over 20 members of Nanle County Christian Church. The church is legally registered under the state-sanctioned Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). The church members were detained after petitioning a higher authority about a land dispute involving Nanle Church. Some church members believe that Zhang was detained as part of a plan by the authorities to replace him as the head of the local TSPM, because of his defence of marginalised social groups.
Church members, lawyers and Christians visiting the family of detained Protestant Pastor Zhang Shaojie were beaten, harassed and detained by “hired thugs”, police and government agencies in December 2013. When Zhang’s trial reached court, his lawyers were detained and he had to dismiss them from the case following concerns that they were at risk of losing their licenses. During court proceedings, lawyer Xia Jun questioned witness statements against Pastor Zhang, alleging that the statement of at least one witness was taken under duress, and raised concerns about the rule of law. Zhang’s lawyers were not told about the date of his appeal in August 2014 or permitted to attend proceedings.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “In 2014, Pastor Zhang Shaojie was unjustly sentenced to twelve years’ imprisonment and an extortionate fine. Recent reports that he is on the verge of death after being tortured in prison would be an unacceptable abuse of human rights even if he were guilty, but the deliberate ill-treatment of an unjustly sentenced pastor is an utterly grievous injustice. We call on the Chinese authorities to immediately stop the mistreatment of Pastor Zhang and to review his sentence with a view to securing his unconditional release. We further urge the Chinese government to ensure that the right to freedom of religion or belief is fully protected in China.”