China Sentences Pastor for Producing Christian Literature as Archbishop Closes Tour

China sends mixed signals on religious freedom for Christians as the Archbishop of Canterbury wraps up his two-week tour and house pastor is sentenced to two years imprisonment for printing Bibles and Christian literature.

Chinese officials have hosted the Archbishop of Canterbury over the past two weeks while "the seriousness of the restrictions on Christian activity in the country has been highlighted by the sentencing of a disabled pastor for printing Bibles and Christian literature", report Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

Pastor Wang Zaiqing, a well known house church pastor from Anhui province, has been sentenced to two years imprisonment and fined 100,000 yuan (£6,700) for producing Bibles and Christian materials. In a now familiar tactic, Pastor Wang was charged with conducting 'illegal business practices' even though he gave the literature away and made no profit.

The verdict was announced on 9 October, the same day the Archbishop discussed the need for more pastors and theological training for the Church in China during his visit to Shanghai.

Pastor Wang's case is the third such prosecution for illegal business practices for production of Christian literature in the last year. It highlights the Chinese authorities' tactic of criminalising religious activities in order to disguise religious persecution under the cloak of the law, tells CSW.

The most prominent of these cases has been that of well known Beijing house church leader Pastor Cai who was sentenced to three years in prison for illegal business practices on 8 November 2005 for producing Bibles and Christian literature.

|QUOTE|Pastor Cai was defended by Mr Gao Zhisheng, the prominent lawyer who has been targeted for his fearless defence of religious freedom and human rights. Gao has been charged with 'inciting subversion of state power'.

His lawyer received the notification of the decision to charge him during the Archbishop's visit, on 12 October. The charge followed weeks of silence after Gao's removal by a dozen security officers on 15 August, prompting strong international criticism.

In releasing the news of the sentence of Wang Zaiqing, Rev Bob Fu of China Aid Association said: "It is totally unacceptable for the Chinese authorities to arrest this pious [disabled] pastor simply for printing Bibles. We appeal to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who will hold a press conference in Beijing Monday, October 23, at the conclusion of his visit to China, to voice his concerns on the situation of religious freedom in China".

Tina Lambert, Deputy National Director of Christian Solidarity Worldwide has said, "It is sadly ironic that at the time Chinese officials are seeking to show progress in religious matters they are simultaneously sentencing a pastor for producing Christian literature. China claims to be afraid of cults, yet it suppresses production of Christian materials, forces groups to operate secretly and prevents them from running seminaries.

"Such policies simply create a breeding ground for heresies and unorthodox practice. It would make much better sense to allow all groups to operate freely in public without the current restrictions which breach international standards. For a long time now the unregistered church of China has been calling for the government to acknowledge and establish dialogue with its leaders. We hope that China will recognise that now is the time to take this step forward to provide concrete proof of its claims of progress in religious matters."

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