Christians in China threatened after arrest for printing devotionals

By Edward Ross |
Attorney Guo Xiongwei in Shunde, China.
Attorney Guo Xiongwei in Shunde, China. | (China Aid screenshot)

Authorities in China issued threats of a long prison sentence and loss of property to Christians charged with “illegal business operations” for printing devotional materials intended only for their church, their attorney said.

Arrested and charged last year, elder Zhu Longfei, Pastor Deng Yanxiang, deacon Zhu Longjiang, deacon Wang Weicai and Zhu Qiaoling of Shengjia Church in Shunde, Guangdong Province, told their attorney in late March of the threats, according to advocacy group China Aid.

“Zhu Qiaoling wept in court, expressing she was threatened with severe punishment of a long sentence,” China Aid revealed in a press statement. “She stated she had done nothing wrong and lamented not being able to accompany her mother before her passing, expressing particular concern for her 94-year-old father, who is now severely disabled.”

Officials told Deng Yanxiang that they would auction off his property, and they threatened to arrest the wife of Zhu Longfei, according to the attorney, Guo Xiongwei.

Amid what rights magazine Bitter Winter called a campaign to pressure unregistered house churches to join the government-controlled Three-Self Church, multiple agencies on May 24 raided the Shengjia Church, arresting four Christians. Among the departments involved in the raid were the Shunde Department of Public Security, the Shunde Religious Affairs Bureau, the Shunde Department of Education and the Shunde Department of Industry and Commerce.  

“Additionally, two learning centers associated with the church were also raided by hundreds of personnel, leading to the confiscation of numerous books, furniture, and other items on the same day,” China Aid reported. “On Aug. 9, Elder Zhu Longfei was summoned by Shunde Public Security and subsequently arrested on suspicion of ‘illegal business operations.’”

At a pre-trial meeting on March 29, the five accused Christians all told their attorney that officials had threatened or otherwise pressured them, the attorney told China Aid.

The fundamental premise of business is that it strives to make a profit, but the defendants have no profit motive, attorney Guo Xiongwei said.

“The charge of ‘illegal business operations’ has become a catch-all offense during the pre-trial meeting, and our goal as lawyers is to tear apart this catch-all accusation,” Guo told China Aid.

The Shunde District People’s Procuratorate filed the charge of “illegal business operations” in the Shunde District People’s Court based on devotional material (“Daily Scripture Interpretation”) printed for internal use within the church, the group said.

“Furthermore, they were characterized as ‘illegally printing and distributing publications that seriously endanger social order and disrupt market order,’” China Aid stated.

The arrest of Zhu Longfei came as part of a campaign in August against independent house churches in Guangdong Province, which in turn was part of a larger effort to compel house churches to join the Three-Self Church as stipulated by President Xi Jinping at the 2021 National Conference on Work Related to Religious Affairs, according to Bitter Winter.

“The Shunde church was repeatedly ‘invited’ to join the Three-Self Church and refused,” the online magazine stated. “Devotees soon learned that their refusal came with a price. Their pastor, Deng Yanxiang, and Wang Weicai, a businessman who had left his professional activity to become a full-time church co-worker in 2016, were increasingly harassed by the police.”

In the May 24 raid on the Shengjia Mutual Learning and Mutual Aid Center – the Bible study training class of the Shengjia Church – teaching and study materials were confiscated, and the church was sealed, according to Bitter Winter. Shunde

District Police on May 25 charged the initial four Christians “with ‘illegal business operations,’ now a popular trumped-up charge against house church leaders,” it reported.

The Shunde District Procuratorate formally arrested them on June 28, and on Aug. 8 Shunde District Police arrested Zhu Longfei and took him to the Nanhai District Detention Center in Foshan City, where the other leaders of the Shengjia Church also were jailed, according to Bitter Winter.