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BEIJING Chinese authorities have filed new charges against a Christian bookstore owner who observers say is being unjustly persecuted by the government.
Shi Weihan was arrested in November 2007 for "illegal business practices" but was released in January after authorities determined there was insufficient evidence to support the charge. He was re-arrested March 19 for allegedly printing unauthorized Bibles and Christian literature, but his family was not informed where he was being held and his lawyer was prevented from visiting him for more than a month.
Now charges against Shi have been changed and he stands accused of being a "dangerous religious element," reported Bob Fu of the human rights group China Aid Association. "This is another case of brazen trampling on religious freedom and basic human rights by the Chinese government as the Olympic Games draw near," Fu said in a written statement.
Shi's wife, Zhang Jing, expressed concern for the health of her husband, who is diabetic. His attorney reported Shi was in poor health and that prison officials were refusing him medical treatment.
The lawyer also said Shi's interrogation has focused on his relationship with foreigners, especially those from the United States. Shi also works as an independent travel agent whose business brings him into contact with many foreigners, especially with international interest in the Olympic Games this summer.
"They may have suspicions about his patriotism since he has so many foreign friends," longtime friend Ray Sharpe said, according to the Compass Direct news service. "If so, they would again be wrong. I know him to be a successful travel agent because he works so hard to help all of his clients fall in love with his beloved homeland. He longs for foreigners to understand China's culture, her history, her many proud accomplishments."
Sharpe also dismissed the thought that Shi opposes Chinese government policy, Compass Direct reported.
"I know him to be a man that has been promoting the Olympics as a time when many tourists from around the globe would be able to see China, whom he loves so dearly, at her best," Sharpe said. "He dislikes foreigners who are critical of China, often stating that they do so out of ignorance of the tremendous strides that have already been made.
"I know him as someone who dislikes Christians that use their faith as an excuse to oppose the government," Sharpe said. "I know him as someone who often counsels other Christians that we ought to be the best of citizens in whatever country we live. I know him as someone who teaches others to love their country, pray for their government and obey the public officials as though they were placed over us by God."
Concerned individuals are urged to contact:
Chinese Embassy in Washington DC
Address: 2201 Wisconsin Avenue,
N.W., Washington D.C. 20007
Tel: (202) 338-6688, (202)5889760
Fax: (202) 588-9760