House church leader arrested for receiving Bibles

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MIDLAND, Texas — A prominent house church leader in China was formally arrested on Aug. 31 after being detained four weeks earlier for receiving three tons of Bibles.

China Aid Association is reporting that the arrest of Zhou Heng also forced the closure of Yayi Christian Book Room, a registered bookstore that is managed by Zhou. The bookstore sells Christianity-related books published legally and officially inside China.

Zhou 's formal arrest's notice was approved by Shayibake District People's Procuratorate of Urumqi city on Aug. 31 and sent to his wife Chen Jihong by Urumqi Municipal Public Security Bureau.

A copy of the notice paper obtained by CAA accused Zhou of "illegal business operation." Zhou is currently detained at Xishan Detention Center.

The church leader was detained when he went to pick up three tons of Bibles at a bus station on Aug 3, the association reported. The Bibles were reportedly donated by South Korean churches and were intended for local believers free of charge.

The Chinese government, the association said, only allows officially sanctioned (state) churches to print and distribute a limited number of Bibles annually. If convicted of the charges, he faces a 15-year prison sentence.

A recently released inmate who shared a cell with Zhou told a China Aid Association investigator that Zhou was severely beaten by other inmates and prison guards. The association is helping with the legal defense work for Zhou's case. Zhang Xingshui, a well-known Christian human rights defense attorney has agreed to represent Zhou.

Rev. Bob Fu, president of CAA, called Zhou's arrest religious persecution. Three years ago, a Beijing pastor was sentenced to three years in prison for distributing Bibles.

"We call upon the Chinese government to stop this tactic and allow all of the ordinary Chinese citizens to have access to Bibles," he said.

In an unrelated matter, authorities released seven house church leaders detained Aug. 21 in Inner Mongolia after CAA reported their arrests.