CHINA: Imprisoned pastor faces torture and threats
Lawyers for imprisoned pastor Yang Hua say officials have threatened and tortured him in prison.
Yang Hua (39) is one of the pastors of Huoshi (“Living Stone”) Church, the largest house church in Guiyang, capital of China’s southwestern Guizhou province. He has been in police custody since 9 December 2015, when he was detained after he resisted the authorities’ attempts to confiscate a computer hard drive belonging to the church. Officials accused him of “the crime of obstruction of justice” and “gathering a crowd to disturb social order“, and sentenced him to five days in administrative detention for each charge.
On 20 December 2015, the day Pastor Yang was scheduled to be released, his wife Wang Hongwu received an official notice stating that he had been transferred to criminal detention on suspicion of “illegally holding state secrets.” She arrived at the detention centre to see him being put into a black hood and four men forcing him into a van with no licence plates.
On 22 January 2016, the authorities intensified the severity of the charge to “divulging state secrets“, and Pastor Yang was officially arrested. The Chinese government frequently imposes this charge on pastors who publicly oppose government attempts to restrict religious practice.
Wang Hongwu has spoken of how the burden of raising the family has fallen on her. “Just myself and two children – God’s grace is sufficient for us to live. God is gracious. God is watching over us.” In April, the authorities called her in for questioning about her background and family, and about her husband.
Pastor Yang’s lawyers file lawsuit against the authorities
The authorities refused multiple attempts by Pastor Yang’s lawyers Chen Jiangang and Zhao Yonglin to meet their client. They were finally able to meet him on 23 March, and reported that he had lost weight and had been repeatedly threatened by officials who tried to make him confess and said they would portray him as “a greedy pastor“.
Chen Jiangang stated in May that when he and Zhao Yonglin visited the pastor on 22 April, they saw a prison official threaten him. Chen said they suspect that Pastor Yang has been subjected to inhumane treatment and reported that he was in low spirits. “The person from the Procuratorate office who is in charge of this case had coerced Pastor Yang Hua [to confess to his crimes],” Chen said. “Now, Yang Hua is somewhat afraid.”
On 11 May, Pastor Yang testified to his lawyers about the abusive treatment, and Chen Jiangang and Zhao Yonglin subsequently filed a lawsuit against the authorities in Guizhou province. Documents from the lawsuit allege that officers tortured Pastor Yang and threatened his life and family.
In the interview with his lawyers, Pastor Yang described two interrogations, occurring on 16 March and 15 April, in which three and five prosecutors respectively threatened his life and family, and following which he was forced to sign interrogation reports.
According to Pastor Yang, a prosecutor named Ke Jun said on 16 March, “You’d better confess. Your life is in my hands… I’m a torture expert. I know how to beat you up without leaving a mark on your body for people to see.”
Pastor Yang said that on 15 April, a prosecutor named Zhang Wei asked him to describe what had happened on 6 December 2015, when Huoshi Church refused to pay a fine the government imposed for using office space that it had bought for religious services.
When Pastor Yang refused to disclose this information, Ke Jun became angry, stamped on his feet heavily and repeatedly, and said: “No one here sympathises with you. Do you know why the pigs on the pig farm behind this building are so fat? We can turn you into food for pigs, which is one way to die. There’s another way to kill you. I can take you to an isolated place and no one will find out how you died. We can make you experience something worse than death and then make you disappear from the face of the earth, or I can make arrangements with the detention centre to have three or four guys locked here rape you and torture you every night. Suing me won’t work. I’m the boss here.”
Huoshi’s problems began in 2014 when the church grew too big for its buildings and bought a larger venue. The authorities began to pressurise the church not to hold an opening ceremony, threatening legal repercussions including a ban on the event and the arrest of all attendees. Also, the authorities released a notice outlawing Huoshi’s religious activities. Despite these threats, the opening ceremony went ahead.
In October 2015, the church received an administrative penalty notice stating that three rooms in a building registered and approved for business operations were being used for illegal gatherings. The notice gave the church a month to return the rooms to their approved usage or face an accumulating fine of 12,960 Yuan (€1,742) per day.
In November, the church received a document stating that it must demolish the premises and stop all religious activities. The church refused to comply with official demands. An appeal application was rejected in January 2016.
Local government officers have raided services on many occasions, often refusing to show identification, and have filmed the gatherings, confiscated church property and detained some of the Christians.
Members currently meet in small home groups, as the government has closed all three church locations. Several times the police have pressurised landlords to revoke leases, forcing small groups to find other venues, and members have been followed, interrogated and warned not to rejoin small groups.
(China Aid, freeyanghua.org)