Zhang Xiuhong, the former deacon of Living Stone Church, Guizhou Province, was released on 7 August after spending more than two years in detention.
In 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, and she 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 was held in detention for a year and a half before standing trial on 23 January 2017. She was sentenced to five years in prison, later reduced to a three year sentence, suspended for five years.
Although Zhang has been released, she will be under certain restrictions for the duration of her five-year suspended sentence. Sources familiar with the situation say she will not be able to travel freely and will have to report to the police station every week.
Living Stone Church, an unregistered Protestant church which at one time had over 700 members, came under increasing pressure to close because it refused to join the state-sanctioned patriotic association for Protestant churches. 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. In March 2017, Yang’s lawyer reported that he was “on the verge of paralysis” as a result of severe inflammation in his legs. He has since been moved to the medical wing of the prison.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “While we are pleased that Zhang Xiuhong has been allowed to return home, we continue to believe that the charges against her are false, and that she has been unjustly detained and sentenced because of her connection with Living Stone Church. We call on the authorities to ensure her complete and unconditional freedom, and to release Pastor Yang Hua immediately, also without condition. We further urge the authorities to allow Living Stone Church to gather for peaceful worship, and to carry out other religious activities in line with Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”