July 26, 2011
Chinese authorities sentenced Shi Enhao, deputy chairman of the Chinese House Church Alliance and underground pastor, to two years in a labor camp early this week. Charges of holding “illegal meetings and illegal organizing of venues for religious meetings” were levied without trial, and Shi was denied access to a lawyer.
Government pressure on Shi to dissociate himself from the house church movement began in May, shortly after 19 house church leaders connected with Shi's organization submitted a petition to China’s National People’s Congress requesting an end to the persecution of Shouwang Church and an amendment to religious freedom legislation. Shi was arrested May 31 by police in the Jiangsu province and served a 12-day administrative detention sentence.
During this time, his home was raided by Suqian city police, who removed papers and books. On June 12, just after police were due to release Shi from his administrative sentence, he was reported missing again and on June 21 authorities confirmed Shi had been detained indefinitely under suspicion of “using superstition to undermine national law enforcement,” a criminal offense.
Shi’s two-year labor camp sentence is part of the Chinese criminal justice program, which in many areas still operates under the Communist-era mantra laogai, or “reform through labor.” Such punishment is reserved for those guilty of criminal charges and is frequently administered by police without trial.
News of Shi's sentencing arrives as the Domestic Security Protection Department of China ordered Pastor Shi’s church to stop its underground meetings and confiscated church property, including a significant portion of the organization’s operating budget.
Meanwhile, members of the Shouwang Church continue to gather on Sundays in the Zhongguancun district of Beijing—an insider said meetings will continue until December—even as authorities make more arrests and increase crackdowns on house churches across the nation. Sunday marked the 16th week worshipers at Shouwang have gathered outdoors in protest of an April ban on renting indoor space.