A court in China's southern Guizhou province has ordered a house church pastor who had been hooded, detained and tortured to hand over more than a million US dollars worth of donations from Christians which officials have branded 'illegal income', according to China Aid.
The US-based campaign group reported that after seven months of battling with the authorities, pastor Su Tianfu was told that he and a fellow pastor of Huoshi Church, Yang Hua, would be forced to pay a 7,053,710.68 yuan ($1,096,499.33 USD) fine for collecting that amount in church offerings from their congregation.
Officials first notified Su and Yang of the fine in May 2017, claiming that the donations were 'illegal income'.
Both Su and Yang filed several appeals disputing this, arguing that they had only used the money on the church. The appeals were denied and the court has now issued its final verdict.
Since its founding in 2009, according to China Aid, Huoshi Church maintained an open relationship with the Chinese government, informing officials of all its religious activities in order to follow Chinese law.
However, the charity says that eventually, authorities started arbitrarily targeting it, and subjected it to multiple raids in 2015, arresting and detaining its members.
On December 9, 2015, officials took Yang into custody for protecting a church computer's hard drive from confiscation.
The following day, they sentenced him to two consecutive, five-day administrative detention sentences for 'the crime of obstructing justice' and 'gathering a crowd to disturb public order'.
When his wife came to collect him on his release date of December 20, 2015, she reportedly saw him being herded into an unlicensed vehicle and having a black hood put on him. She later learned that the government had transferred him into criminal detention for 'illegally possessing state secrets'. The pastor was arrested on January 22, 2016, changing the charge once more to 'divulging state secrets'.
According to China Aid, Yang then endured abuse at the hands of officials for more than a year, suffering 'repeated torture as his prosecutors tried to force a confession from him, threatening to harm his family and kill him as they applied immense pressure to his toes'.
In what China Aid President Bob Fu condemned as 'nothing but purely barbaric religious persecution,' a court sentenced Yang to two-and-a-half years in prison on January 5, 2017.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party is officially atheist. Five religious groups – Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, Catholics and Protestants – can register with the government and legally hold services. But adherents of unregistered faiths including Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists and evangelical Christians unwilling to come under state supervision have faced forced conversion, torture and imprisonment.
China Aid, in its 2016 Annual Persecution Report, said Christians are being persecuted 'at a frequency unseen since the Cultural Revolution'. Persecution cases went up by more than 20 per cent in 2016 compared to 2015, the number of people detained increased by nearly 150 per cent, arrests went up 11 per cent, those sentenced increased by a third, abuse cases went up more than 40 per cent and the actual number of people abused increased by nearly 70 per cent.
China is ranked 43rd on the new Open Doors World Watch List of countries which persecute Christians the worst.