Church wins land dispute after pastor's wife bulldozed during church demolition protest
Chinese authorities have ruled that a church in Henan province does own the right to its own land, less than two weeks after the pastor's wife was killed after stepping in front of a bulldozer to protest at the church's demolition.
According to human rights organisation China Aid, a task force declared on Monday that the land is the property of pastor Li Jiangong and Beitou Church in Zhumadian, Henan, and no other individual or organisation may lay claim to it.
Li's wife, Ding Cuimei, suffocated to death when she and her husband stood in front of a bulldozer in an attempt to stop a demolition on April 14. A local developer reportedly wanted to take over the church's property.
Witnesses said the bulldozer pushed the two into a pit, where they were covered in soil. Li was able to escape, but Ding was killed. The couple have three children.
Ding's death provoked an international outcry. China Aid's founder Bob Fu denounced Ding's death as a "serious violation of the rights to life, religious freedom and rule of law".
"Bulldozing and burying alive Ding Cuimei, a peaceful and devout Christian woman, was a cruel, murderous act," he said.
"The Chinese authorities should immediately hold those murderers accountable and take concrete measures to protect the religious freedom of this house church's members."
In response to the authorities' latest ruling, Fu said: "While we are glad to see and commend the local authorities under international pressure acted swiftly and fairly to resolve the church's land with this right decision, we are still deeply concerned about the justice for this family of martyr which is still not done.
"We appeal to the Chinese authorities to hold those criminal perpetrators accountable with a fair investigation and standard judicial process for full justice and with unhindered legal representation."
Beijing-based human rights lawyer Li Dunyong has taken on the case.
The Communist Party is believed to be becoming progressively more suspicious of the influence of Christianity, which is experiencing significant growth in China. Up to 1,700 churches have been demolished or had their crosses removed in Zhejiang province to the east of Henan, and a significant number of pastors and human rights lawyers have been arrested and imprisoned.
Activists believe that Zhejiang is being used by the government as a test-ground, and fear that anti-Christian measures may soon be rolled out in other provinces.
In November, five church leaders were arrested in Henan over accusations they were involved in cult practices.