Chinese Church Leader To Stand Trial As Clampdown On Christianity Tightens

The Communist Party is believed to be becoming progressively more suspicious of the influence of Christianity, which is experiencing significant growth in China.Reuters

A Chinese church leader is scheduled to stand trial next week over allegations of "illegal business operations".

Zhang Xiuhong, a deacon at the Guiyang Huoshi Church in Guizhou province, was responsible for the house church's financial affairs. She was detained by local police in July 2015 alongside her husband Chen Zukai, who was later released.

Zhang faces charges of running an illegal business after she allegedly withdrew church funds from the cash register in her beauty shop, China Aid reports.

The Texas-based persecution watchdog says she has been "arbitrarily held" since her arrest, and will go on trial on January 23.

Huoshi Church is a prominent local church and Zhang is not the only member to face investigation.

Christian pastor Yang Hua has been sentenced to two years in prison in ChinaChina Aid

Pastor Yang Hua, also known as Li Guozhi, was sentenced earlier this month to two and a half years in prison on a charge of "divulging state secrets".

Police raided Huoshi Church in December 2015 and arrested Yang after he tried to stop officials from confiscating the church computer hard drives.

His lawyers later filed a suit stating he had suffered torture while in prison.

Bob Fu, president and founder of China Aid, condemned his treatment. "This is nothing but purely barbaric religious persecution. We urge President Obama and President-elect Trump to unequivocally condemn this brutal act," he said.

Last June Yang wrote to his wife from prison urging her to place her full trust in God.

He wrote: "Never be dejected and despondent, always look up at our Lord, and always keep the spiritual life above the chaos of the real environment.

"Rest in God's arms. 'Some rely on chariots, some on horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord.' Be upright and take care. Be prepared for the rest of the road. I will go with you. If the Lord doesn't allow it, not a single hair [from your head] will drop to the floor."

Yang's original charges were "obstructing justice" and "gathering a crowd to disturb public order".

He completed the sentences on these charges, and was then charged with "illegally possessing state secrets" for which he has now been sentenced.

The Chinese government has in recent years been taking an increasingly hard line on religion. Around 1,500 churches have been demolished or had their identifying crosses removed in Zhejiang province. Hundreds of pastors and lawyers who opposed the campaign have been imprisoned on charges widely regarded as concocted by the authorities.

China was earlier this month ranked 39th on persecution charity Open Doors' annual list of countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.