Chinese Government drops charges over illegal Christian literature

China Aid Association (CAA) has learned that Christian bookstore owner, Shi Weihan has been released on bail.

Chinese officials have decided against a formal trial for Shi, and criminal charges against him have been dropped.

Eyewitnesses told CAA that Shi was in good spirits and relatively stable physical condition. Shi's family members asked CAA to thank the international community for their "tireless efforts" in seeking his release.

Shi, and some of his colleagues, were detained for 37 days under charges of illegal printing and distribution of Christian literature.

According to Chinese law, a formal arrest warrant must be issued or the accused must be released after 37 days of administrative detention.

Sources state that the Beijing Haidian District prosecution office assigned to Shi's case determined that they were unable to proceed with formal charges due to "insufficient evidence".

Regardless of the reason for Shi's unconditional release, it is evident that international attention and pressure on the case were instrumental in influencing the court's decision, said CAA.

"The Chinese government has made a positive step in the right direction regarding this case," CAA's President Bob Fu stated. "This is a clear victory of rule of law and international intervention."

The government's decision to release Shi and the others is a "virtuous development" following the Communist party's conference on the collective study of Religion and Religious policy last month, CAA added.

During the conference, President Hu Jintao reiterated the Government's stance on the "implementation of free religious policy".

While the Chinese Government's decision in the Shi Weihan case "should be lauded", said CAA, hundreds of prisoners persecuted for their beliefs still remain in custody.

Shi's imprisonment and subsequent release follows the case of Xinjiang church leader Zhou Heng, who was arrested in August of 2007 for receiving "illegally printed" Bibles. Zhou, who was held on the same charges as Shi Weihan, continues to serve an "unjust sentence" behind bars, the Chinese persecution watchdog said.

It added: "These accounts, and others, are examples of the Chinese Government's failure to remain consistent in cases receiving less international attention.

"CAA encourages the Chinese Government to follow the example set in the Shi Weihan case, and maintain consistency in its policies and rhetoric on religious freedom."