This Reuters story on the sentencing of a Protestant house church minister, wife and brother to prison terms for printing 200,000 copies of the Bible is setting off something of a firestorm as China's regulation of religion comes under the microscope. This article has already triggered stories in The Washington Post and The Washington Times mentioning that President Bush is paying the country a visit in a few days. Cai Zhuohua, 34, was arrested in September 2005 and was sentenced to three years in prison. His wife will be in jail for two years and the brother for 18 months. Cai's sister-in-law cooperated and didn't receive any prison time. According to the article, the crime was printing Bibles and other religious publications. And here's why:
In atheist China, printing of Bibles and other religious publications need special approval from the State Bureau of Religious Affairs. Bibles cannot be openly bought at bookshops in a country long criticized overseas for intolerance of religion.
Sounds like a simple case of China cracking down on religious freedom, which is supposedly in China's constitution, but people are only allowed to worship at official churches. Probably doesn't sound like much freedom to the majority of us, does it? Through a friend of mine, a Catholic priest in Northeast China said that you can find a Bibles in a few commercial bookstores and at both Protestant and Catholic churches' bookstores, and that a lot of what happens in China regarding the state's control of religion depends on the location.
National Review's Jason Lee Steorts filed a more thorough report back in April:
Last September, the pastor of Yang's church, Cai Zhuohua (his real name), was arrested. Police from China's Security Bureau searched his home and a neighboring building that housed a printing press. The owners of the press had cooperated with Cai to print some 230,000 Bibles and religious tracts. The police confiscated all of these materials and arrested two young women who were working at the press. They were later released, but remain under watch.
Cai's wife, who was not with her husband at the time of his arrest, fled to a coastal province, but was caught shortly thereafter. Her older brother and his wife were also arrested. They, along with Cai, are still being held incommunicado. The only members of the pastor's immediate family to avoid arrest were his four-year-old son and his 70-year-old mother, who are currently being cared for with donations from church members.
The day after Cai was arrested, an underground seminary associated with his church was also raided. More than 20 policemen surrounded the seminary and arrested its students. (Yang, who was enrolled at the seminary, happened to be away at the time, and thus escaped.) Beijing's Public Security Bureau held the students for three days, fined them a hefty amount, and sent them to their home provinces for punishment by local authorities. Yang suspects their punishments have been severe, although he has no way of contacting them.
In deference to fairness and balance, the Post tries to give the state's reason for persecuting Cai:
Speaking in an interview in July with Ta Kung Pao, a pro-Beijing newspaper in Hong Kong, China's top religious affairs official said Cai illegally published 40 million Bibles and other Christian books and illegally sold 2 million of them.
"Objectively speaking, religion is a breakthrough point for Western anti-China forces to Westernize and split China," said Ye Xiaowen, director of the State Bureau of Religious Affairs. But he said that did not mean all religious problems should be considered "infiltration," adding "there is no so-called persecution of religious people" in China.
Zhang acknowledged his client published Bibles without the government's permission, but denied Cai sold any of them, saying that he distributed them for free.
"Although he didn't get permission from the Bureau of Religious Affairs, this was nonprofit, private proselytizing behavior, and it did no harm to society," Zhang said. "He may have violated regulations, but not criminal law, and I don't think he should have been convicted."
Have you ever seen a more tortured explanation from a government official? Why is the Post using this guy's quotes about there being no "so-called persecution of religious people"? It's clearly a bunch of nonsense.