Imprisoned Chinese pastor's family escapes to the U.S.
The family of Zhang Shaojie was being harassed by Chinese officials.
Imprisoned Chinese pastor Zhang Shaojie's family has excaped China and arrived safely in the United States this week.
The family has been harassed by Chinese officials since Zhang's sentencing to 12 years on July 4 for fraud and "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order." They say the conviction and sentence were a "miscarriage of justice."
Pastor Zhang had been in a dispute with the Nanle County government since October 2013 over land that was allegedly to be allocated to Zhang's government-approved church for a new building. He was arrested in November.
After the sentencing, Zhang's daughter's car was detained by police, and Zhang's parents have been the target of threats and harassment.
Zhang's daughter Huixin, her husband, Sun Zhulei, and their one-year-old daughter, Sun Jiexi, tried to leave Beijing on June 23, but were stopped by airport security, citing "national security." China Aid's Bob Fu told The Telegraph that Henan and Nanle police officers were monitoring them at the airport.
The family was finally able to leave the country after China Aid and an underground network snuck them out. Fu said that the family can stay for one year in the United States while they decide whether to file for religious asylum.
The U.S. Embassy would not confirm Fu's statements.
Zhang's family flew into Dallas, Texas, and are now staying in a guesthouse at the First Baptist Church in Midland.
They thanked their supporters for securing their freedom.
"Our family and our church want to thank the U.S. government and many anonymous church leaders in different parts of the world for helping assist our family's hard fought freedom," Huixin said in a statement released by China Aid.
"Our family comes here to raise awareness of the deteriorating situation of religious freedom in Nanle and in China."
In addition to the lengthy sentence, Zhang was ordered to pay 100,000 yuan, or about $16,000 U.S. dollars. The Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said that Zhang was targeted because of his faith.
"The harsh sentence reflects that Chinese authorities are expanding harassment and persecution usually aimed at underground house churches by going after officially sanctioned religious institutions," they said in a statement.
Zhang's family plans to appeal the sentence.