Chinese businessman waits for court ruling, exoneration

WASHINGTON — Shi Weihan, the Chinese Christian bookstore owner who has been imprisoned for more than a year, appeared in court in early April and his family reported that he appeared thin but healthy, according to a news release by China Aid Association.

Shi's attorney spent three hours defending him in court, noting that Shi's acts "did not constitute a crime because he was not engaged in illegal business acts and he did not disturb the social or market order." Shi, jailed since March 19, 2008, has been accused of printing and giving away Christian books and Bibles without government permission.

China Aid said police reportedly brought no new evidence against Shi at the court appearance, but they frequently referred to the "printing of illegal books." In the past, a judge has ruled there is insufficient evidence to convict Shi of "illegal business practices," but police have continued to hold him in order to collect additional evidence for a conviction.

Shi's wife, parents and three friends attended the trial, but they were not allowed to speak with him. They have not been allowed much contact with him during the past year and had been concerned about his health.

The court appearance was a step forward in the family's struggle for Shi's freedom because several previous court dates had been postponed over recent months, China Aid said.

While imprisoned, Shi signed a confession stating that he had printed books and Bibles without government permission, but he said they were given away as gifts, not sold, and therefore did not constitute illegal business practices.

China Aid reported that Shi, in the confession, said he printed the books because many churches and Christians in China lacked Bibles and Christian literature to guide them. Where such books were available, lives were being transformed and people were becoming better citizens, he said.

"Shi's character and good influence on the other prisoners has apparently been noted by prison officials, and he reportedly has had some favor in that setting, although the conditions have been difficult and his health has suffered," a China Aid source reported. "... Pray that ... the judge recognizes what the officials in the prison have [recognized] — that Shi Weihan is a man of great mercy and compassion, that he is a blessing to China...."

Shi's attorney said a verdict is expected within 45 days of the court appearance. If convicted, Shi could spend three to four additional years in prison.

Also in China, Zhang Mingxuan, known as Pastor Bike, head of the Chinese House Church Alliance, continues to be harassed by government authorities. On March 21, more than a dozen plainclothes officers arrested and interrogated him, forcefully searched him and threatened him with death, China Aid said.

The officers questioned Zhang about his recent travels and confiscated three cell phones and bank cards and seized money totally nearly $22,000. They later returned the phones and the cards, but not the money, China Aid reported.

"I am not against the law as a citizen. The police arrested me and detained my property illegally," Zhang wrote March 26. "They deprived me of my human rights as a citizen, freedom and right of residence. They arrested me several times during the Olympic Games. They beat my son. After the Olympic Games, they promised to allow my family to live in Beijing, but they lied.

"This is arbitrary deprivation of civil rights. I implore people of conscience in the international community, as well as Christians worldwide to pray for the Chinese public security authorities in Beijing, that they would realize their offense," Zhang added. "Please pray that our Lord Jesus Christ would change their hearts, that they would stop persecuting house churches. Pray for the revival of China in true faith, and for the reality of harmonious policy by the Central Government."

As persecution continues in China, eight human rights groups in the country released a joint statement to the Chinese government, calling for officials to address the frequent violation of human rights.

Mentioning among other cases the confiscation of Zhang's money, the groups wrote, "We hold that all these acts are an illegal exercise of police power and a rude violation of the Chinese citizens' personal freedom, right to properties, freedom of thought and other basic human rights."

The groups, including the Chinese House Church Alliance, also noted that "social crises are deepening and the conflicts between the common people and officialdom are intensifying." They called for political reform, including the promotion of democracy and the rule of law as a solution to the overbearing government.

"The Chinese people who have awakened and have stood up are willing to safeguard human rights by defending their rights in this fight for freedom," the statement said. "When people are not afraid of death, how can you use death to make them afraid?"

Concerned American citizens are encouraged to call the Chinese Embassy in Washington at 202-328-2500.

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