Inspired by Putin’s crackdown on “illegal” religion, Chinese authorities now claim that pastors they do not like are guilty of “extremism.”
by Qi Junzao
Organizing illegal religious gatherings, or being part of a xie jiao or a “cult” even if your theology is very much traditional have been the accusations used for decades in China to detain and sentence house church pastors and co-workers, and even government-approved pastors who do something the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) does not approve of. Recently, “fraud” has been added, based on the legal theory that collecting donations for an “illegal” religious community, i.e. one not affiliated with the government-controlled Three-Self Church is by definition a fraudulent activity.
Sometimes, all these accusations fail or would not be believable. The Russian friends of the Chinese regime, whose anti-cult propagandists visit China often, have supplied another weapon. You can always accuse the dissident church leaders of “extremism,” which in Russia does not mean that a pastor practices or incites violence but simply that his or her religious activism goes beyond the boundaries fixed by the regime. If one is extremist, he or she may also be accused of being a terrorist threat.
This tool was used against Zhao Weikai, a co-worker at Taiyuan Reformed Church in Taiyuan, the capital and the largest city (with a population of more than 4 million) of the northern Shanxi province, whose story we already told in Bitter Winter.
Zhao was detained on May 17, 2021. His wife Li Xin was also subject to two weeks of administrative detention and his books and computer were confiscated. It was not totally clear to his family what the charges were. They sought the help of a lawyer who was told that he was detained for “inappropriate religious involvement.”
There is no such a crime in China, but the lawyer understood that Zhao was accused of not limiting himself to operate in the church’s place of worship, but organized Bible studies and prayer meetings at home, which the authorities claimed is illegal, and tried with his wife to homeschool their children.
On July 20, 2021, he was formally arrested by the Wenshui county Procuratorate of Lüliang city, Shanxi province. When he and his relative heard the accusation they were astonished. Zhao was accused of “promoting extremism and terrorism.” It seems the police had found in his home material critical of the CCP and its repression of students in 1989 in Tiananmen Square and Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
On December 15, 2022, he was tried at the Lüliang Municipal Intermediate People’s Court, and a verdict was not announced.
On December 30, 2022, the family was informed he had been sentenced to two years in jail. The wife reported that COVID is rampant in the Fangshan county Detention Center where Zhao now is, and he suffers of high blood pressure and liver problems.
For “promoting extremism and terrorism” the sentence is lenient. But it shows that “extremism” and “terrorism” are now used in a cavalier way to repress Christians the CCP suspects of not being perfectly aligned with its aims of total control of religion.