After spending months in prison, five Christian detainees in China's coastal Zhejiang were suddenly released just ahead of the G20 summit meeting in Hangzhou amid pressure from activists.
According to China Aid, an international non-profit Christian human rights organization committed to promoting religious freedom and rule of law in China, Ji Qingcao, Ji Qingcou, Ou Jinsi, Mei Xueshun, and He Lijing are members of Yazhong Church who were arrested last April after protesting the government-ordered demolition of Guankou Church.
Over the next year, many of those involved in the protests were detained or arrested for various reasons, and in April, the five Christians were held on the charges of "obstructing government administration" and "disturbing public order."
"A few days ago, I'd heard that [the five Christians] had been released in the past few days," a Wenzhou Christian told China Aid's reporter. "I feel like the government is trying to pacify the people before the summit meeting. Since the summit meeting will be held here [on September 4], the government begins to worry that they have detained the Christians for too long. The local government was concerned about petitions organized by the family members, thinking higher officials would pressure them."
However, while the five Christians have finally gained their freedom, Wen Xiaowu, the leader of a house church in Rui'an is still being held and has not been heard from since his arrest on April 15. Wen was detained with his wife, Xiang Lihua, and their son, on the charge of "gathering a crowd to disturb public order" after travelling to meet with diplomatic officers at the American Embassy in Shanghai.
The annual G20 summit will be held in Hangzhou, Zhejiang from Sept. 4-5. During this meeting, world leaders, including U.S. President Obama, will gather to discuss key issues of the global economy.
Zhejiang authorities have reportedly been preparing for this meeting as early as February, including a close monitoring of hotels, restaurants, churches, temples, and a crackdown on house churches unapproved by the government.
Recently, officials raided a 2,000-member house church in Hangzhou that is affiliated with Watchman Nee's "Little Flock" Local Church movement. While the house church has been in existence for more than 40 years - even gathering during Mao Zedong's oppressive Cultural Revolution - local neighborhood committee and police station issued a notice that prohibited all future meetings.
In addition, eight officials from the religious affairs bureau and its subdistrict office raided the church to take pictures and disperse the service, forbidding the church from meeting further. Several other house churches in the area also reported authorities forcing meetings to stop.
In light of such ongoing persecution, China Aid president Bob Fu earlier this year accused the Communist regime of making a mockery of "basic justice" and urged the U.S. leaders to use the upcoming G20 summit to urge Chinese leaders to release those imprisoned and end persecution against Christians across the country.
"With next month's G20 summit being held in China, we urge the United States to ask the Chinese government to immediately release those who were sentenced and those who are about to be tried in the next few days, including attorney Li Heping," Fu wrote. "The Chinese regime should also immediately stop mistreating their family members, including their wives and children."