The Supreme People’s Procuratorate says the Disciples have now become a main national security threat.
by Fang Yongrui
On April 16, China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate launched a promotional campaign aimed at proving the effectiveness of Chinese prosecutors, who are busy protecting national security against the continuous threats created by foreign agents and spies. The campaign presents “Typical Cases of Prosecution Organs Punishing Crimes Endangering National Security in accordance with the Law” (检察机关依法惩治危害国家安全犯罪典型案例).
In fact, three cases have been selected. We are not told which prosecutor offices in which provinces were involved, but we are offered a rare glimpse on the dreaded Legal Education Centers (法制教育中心), through which the defendants passed in the three cases. Notwithstanding the seemingly inoffensive name, the Legal Education Centers, or “black jails,” are in fact a secretive variant of the transformation though education camps, where inmates are indoctrinated and submitted to sleep deprivation and torture. At the end of this “legal education,” they are ready to “confess” in show trials reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution and of the Stalinist-era purges in the Soviet Union.
Two of the three cases advertised by the Supreme Procuratorate concern espionage on behalf of foreign countries, which is now a fashionable crime, as the CCP should reinforce the impression that China is threatened by the United States and all the problems of the country derive from American conspiracies.
The other case, in fact presented as the first, concerns the Association of Disciples. The Procuratorate claims that “a large number of believers [of this group] have seriously disrupted the social order,” which confirms reports received by Bitter Winter that during the COVID-19 crisis the Disciples grew by offering a religious explanation of the events and healing prayers. Falun Gong also resurfaced and grew, as we know from several reports published by the CCP-controlled media. It is, however, interesting that the Procuratorate has decided to select a Disciples case for its campaign, rather than one about Falun Gong or The Church of Almighty God, the two other main targets of the CCP crackdown against the religious movements banned as xie jiao.
The Association of Disciples (门徒会, Mentuhui) is a Christian new religious movement founded by Ji Sanbao (季三保, 1940-1997), a former member of the True Jesus Church, in 1989. It was almost immediately banned, in 1990, included in the list of the xie jiao, and severely persecuted. As the Procuratorate notes, the group is also known as “Teachings of the Third Redemption” (三赎教), based on its claim that it represents the third sign of salvation, after Noah’s ark and Jesus Christ’s cross.
The Procuratorate presents the case of the successful prosecution and trial of one 57-year-old woman called Zhao and five co-religionists, who were sentenced to jail penalties of one to four years. The campaign hails the effectiveness of the Legal Education Centers, and claims all the defendants repented and confessed.
As the story goes, Zhao suffered from stomach and feet pain, and received inadequate attention in a small hospital. In 2015, she joined the Disciples, persuaded she could be healed there. The Procuratorate lists three main techniques used by the Disciples to recruit followers: the claim that the deceased Ji Sanbao was a divine incarnation, a focus on healing, and the creation of warm communities where believers feel “at home.”
According to the Procuratorate, in her confession Zhao said she now realized she should have sought transfer to a larger hospital rather than wasting her time in a xie jiao.
While we have no reason to believe that the Procuratorate invented the story (although no details are offered), and Zhao’s passage through the Legal Education Centers sounds both sinister and familiar, it certainly contradicts the frequently used CCP propaganda claim that only leaders of banned movements are prosecuted and not their “victims.” On the one hand, Zhao is presented as the typical “victim,” who is recruited by a xie jiao because of her illness. On the other hand, she is called a “criminal” and goes to jail even if she confessed.
Once again, it is confirmed that any claim of a distinction between leaders and common believers is just propaganda. Any kind of participation in illegal forms of religion is punished with jail penalties.