Source: Direct Reports from China
Date: June 18, 2018
Three leaders of the Shouters Christian community in the city of Yantai, Shandong Province, have been persecuted and arrested over the time period of a few years. Their stories serve as examples of Chinese government’s crackdown on religious minorities that has recently intensified. Communities of the Shouters, Christians, in the tradition of Chinese preachers Watchman Nee and Witness Lee, have been targeted by authorities for a long time. Christians in the same tradition in the West are known as the Local Church.
The persecution of the three Shouters – Yan Linsong (53), Zhang Tao (63), and Li Yongqiang (62; all pseudonyms), all members of the same church – started in 1997 when the government ordered them to join the official Three-Self Church. The church, led by Yan Linsong, refused to do so. Authorities began monitoring Yan Linsong and Zhang Tao, looking for a pretext to arrest them. Afraid for their safety, they were forced to flee the area and went into hiding for over a year. Eventually, the government put Yan Linsong on a national wanted list.
In April 2014, Zhang Tao and Li Yongqiang were preaching in Shandong’s Binzhou city when somebody reported on them, and they were arrested the same day. After being detained and interrogated for several months, they were escorted to a police station in their hometown. Officers of the local National Security Brigade and the police station took turns interrogating the two but yielded no results. Zhang Tao was sentenced to four and a half years, and Li Yongqiang to four years for “being active in a xie jiao” and “unlawful preaching.” Xie jiao is an expression often translated as “cult,” but literally meaning “heterodox teachings.” The authorities publish periodically lists of the xie jiao, largely compiled on a political basis. Being active in a xie jiao is a crime punished with imprisonment from three to seven years or more by Article 300 of the Chinese Criminal Code.
They were sent to prison in the city of Weifang to serve their time. In the meantime, Li Yongqiang hired a lawyer, while fellow Shouters tried to intercede on behalf of Zhang Tao by going through connections, but with no positive outcomes – both men remained incarcerated, enduring multiple sessions of intense psychological pressure. In December 2017, Li Yongqiang was released, six months early, but Zhang Tao remains imprisoned to this day.
Since Zhang Tao and Li Yongqiang’s arrests, their families have been under constant surveillance and harassment by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the police. Their lives have become unbearably difficult. In early May 2018, several officers with the Yantai National Security Brigade went to Zhang Tao’s daughter’s home and took photos of his wife without permission (she is a regular believer in the Shouters). Being intimidated for a long time and enduring constant threats, she has become clinically depressed. Zhang Tao’s son, pressured by the CCP, opposes his father’s religious belief.
Although Li Yongqiang has been released, he is still under close police surveillance, and refuses contact – Bitter Winter has unsuccessfully tried to interview him multiple times.
Yan Linsong went into hiding for many years but was still unable to escape arrest. On March 10, 2018, while driving to Qixia, he was apprehended by the police at a toll station where they were checking identification. After his arrest his family spent large amounts of money trying to release him – in just a few days, they spent nearly 50,000 RMB. The police later discovered that Yan Linsong had hepatitis and released him on bail, pending trial. Before his release, the police warned him multiple times not to leave Yantai and told him that his phone is being monitored. Though not convicted, his future remains uncertain.