Xi’an Church of Abundance (‘Fengsheng’) released a statement on 22 February with details of the torture and mistreatment that three detained leaders of the church were subjected to in custody.
Senior Pastor Lian Changnian, 69, his son, Pastor Lian Xuliang, 41, and preacher Fu Juan, 38, had been held under ‘Residential Surveillance in a Designated Location’ (RSDL, a type of incommunicado detention that has been recognised by the UN as a form of forced disappearance) by Xi’an police since August 2022. On 15 February 2023 they were transferred to a detention centre where they were allowed to meet with their respective lawyers for the first time on 22 February.
In a statement seen by CSW, the church revealed that its three leaders were tortured while held in RSDL. Interrogators used a range of coercive means to obtain false statements.
Xi’an police officers threatened Senior Pastor Lian that they would subject his son to beatings or food deprivation. They blew smoke in his eyes during interrogation sessions, which ‘made him keep weeping but he was unable to cry’. On one occasion he was not allowed to use the bathroom for 27 hours.
The younger pastor Lian Xuliang was physically attacked eight times, including in one incident which took place in the presence of his father. During the first month of his RSDL detention, he was often only given one steamed bun and a half cup of water for a meal. As a result, ‘his health has suffered greatly’. Ms Fu was also physically attacked and threatened multiple times.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: ‘We are appalled by the inhumane treatment these three pastors from Church of Abundance have endured while in police custody. We repeat our call on China to abolish the practice of RSDL detention, which leads to widespread torture and violates its obligations under the Convention against Torture and other international treaties. The Chinese government must end its outrageous crackdown on unregistered religious groups and release Pastor Lian Changnian, Pastor Lian Xuliang, Ms Fu Juan, Bishop Shao Zhumin, Father Jiang Sunian, and all others who have been arbitrarily detained or jailed for their religious activities.’
Recently there has been a flurry of reports of police operations against unregistered Protestant and Catholic churches across China. In Beijing, Shouwang Church was raided by the authorities during a service at a rented venue on 9 February. The church’s pastor, Zhang Xiaofeng, was detained by police for 10 days.
In Hefei, Pastor Sun Hongguang, who was visiting and preaching at a church in the city was taken away by police during a service on 12 February. He was released later but his laptop was confiscated. Hefei police banned him from leaving the city.
In Chengdu, Early Rain Covenant Church (ERCC) issued a series of statements about a new wave of state oppression. Since 24 February many of its members have been summoned by police or questioned by Religious Affairs Bureau officials in attempts to stop them from participating in church gatherings. On 26 February at least six church leaders and their families were guarded by police and prevented from leaving their homes to attend a church service. On the same day, Chengdu authorities took the wife and children of Elder Li Yingqiang away from their home in Chengdu to Deyang, another city in Sichuan province.
In a prayer update shared on 19 February, ERCC said that four years after the 2019 crackdown, many of its members still have not been able to resume in-person service attendance; about a quarter of adult members have been ‘absent in services both offline and online’.
In Wenzhou, Bishop Shao Zhumin and his secretary, Father Jiang Sunian, were taken by police in January 2023 so that they could not attend the funeral of a fellow underground clergyman.
The Chinese authorities have tightened security throughout the country in the run-up to the annual Two Sessions, which will start on 4 March this year. Some dissidents, rights activists and religious leaders have reportedly been taken away from their cities by police, ostensibly for ‘tourism’, or placed under 24-hour surveillance.
Mervyn Thomas added: ‘Members of religious communities in China have displayed admirable resilience and perseverance in defending their right to worship and practice their religion or belief, which is enshrined by China’s own constitution. The international community must stand with them and continue to take every opportunity to hold the Chinese government to account for its violations of freedom of religion or belief and other basic human rights.’
Note to Editors:
- Two Sessions refers to annual sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC) and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).