Amid an intense crackdown on China’s house churches, authorities arrested one of the country’s top Christian leaders, the author of a bold manifesto delivered to the communist regime.
Zhang Rongliang, 53, was taken into custody Dec. 1 at his apartment in Xuzhai village, Zhengzhou city, Henan province, the Oklahoma-based Voice of the Martyrs reported.
Zhang leads the Fangcheng Mother Church in Henan and the China for Christ Church, one of the largest house church networks in the country with an estimated 10 million members.
Co-author of the House Churches of China’s Confession of Faith and Declaration in 1999, he is well-known internationally and has been featured in books such as “Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power,” by former Time magazine journalist David Aikman, and in articles in magazines such as Newsweek.
Zhang already has spent 12 years in prison during five separate detentions since his secret baptism in 1969, VOM said. He experienced harsh torture, including electric shocks, during his prison terms.
VOM sources said a witness saw a Ministry of State Security vehicle parked near Zhang’s apartment before the 1 p.m. arrest last week. His wife and children were not home at the time and now are in hiding.
On the evening of the arrest, police surrounded Xuzhai village and searched every house, according to VOM sources, who believe Zhang’s wife and children were the targets of the search.
Authorities confiscated Zhang’s Christian DVDs, materials and photos revealing relationships with foreigners and foreign agencies.
At least three house churches in the Fangcheng area were raided last week after Zhang’s arrest, including the house of the parents of Xiao Min, who is sought by authorities because of her prolific writing of Chinese worship songs known as “Canaan Hymns.”
Zhang’s arrest comes amid a serious crackdown on China’s house churches, said VOM, which notes a “generally worsening situation and increased arrests.”
All Protestant and Catholic churches in China are required to be under control of the government, and groups that do not register – the vast majority – are included in the list of “illegal cults.”
The government is engaged in a disinformation campaign, similar to one used against the Falun Gong before the major crackdown against the sect, according to VOM.
Articles on an overseas pro-China website called DUOWEI news and in the New York Times portrayed house churches as secret religious fanatics who even commit murder in a battle for new membership.
VOM believes the Chinese government purposely provided misleading and false information to the news outlets by linking the house church with “a criminal group disguised as religion called Eastern Lightning.”
In September, more than 100 pastors were arrested in Kaifeng city alone, and at least 11 have been sentenced to one to three years of “re-education through labor.”
The pastors sentenced are Zhang Wanshun, Ping Xinsheng, Guo Zhumei ,Yang Jianshe, Zhang Weifang, Zhang Tianyun, Yu Xiangzhi, Yu Guoying, Shun Fu, Chen Yanjing and Li Qun.
Ranging in age from 25 to 57, each was accused as “leaders of an evil cult” and already has experienced harsh treatment, including severe beatings.
Ping lost consciousness three times due to continuous beatings since his arrest in August, VOM said.
VOM sources fear Zhang, who has suffered from diabetes for five years, could face harsh treatment by police.
“As the leader of a large house-church network, he could be classified as an evil cult leader,” the group said.
Police also are seeking Zhang’s two sons and could pressure him to give information about them and the activities of other church leaders.
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