Phayul Bureau Report
New Delhi, September 19 - In what is believed to be the first lawsuit against a government religious authority in China, a Christian house church in Chengdu city lodged a court case against the Shuangliu County Bureau of People's Religious Affairs for illegally shutting down a religious gathering held by the church on May 2, 2008.
A religious gathering organized by the Qiuyu Blessings Church on May 2 was interrupted by 40 public security officers and religious affairs authorities who confiscated bibles and other religious educational materials, church members told HRIC. An after-the-fact official order was sent to the church banning the gathering.
“Such actions constitute an attack on the government’s wish for a harmonious society, on civilized methods of law enforcement, on China’s human rights situation—which has received much attention domestically and abroad in the run-up to the Olympics—and in particular, on our religious freedom, personal freedom and private property,” church members said in an open letter issued after the incident.
In July this year, the Qiuyu Church unsuccessfully challenged the ban.
The complaint, filed by Wang Yi on behalf of the church, charges that the raid was illegal because the raiding officers did not provide a legal basis for their action, and the subsequent unsigned order banning the event also failed to cite specifically what regulations were violated. Wang wants this order annulled.
"This is a test case about the extent of the religious freedom that the Chinese government says its people enjoy," said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China (HRIC). "We are encouraged that house church members are beginning to use the law as a tool to defend their rights. This is the only way toward building a civil society."
According to HRIC, when Wang Yi delivered the complaint to the Shuangliu County Court onSeptember 16, the judge said the evidence Wang presented was insufficient to support the case. Wang returned the following day with more documentation, but the judge refused to issue a receipt for the complaint and the supporting documents, or a notification to accept the case. By law, a court has seven days to decide a validity of a case.
Wang said that he hopes this case will prompt other house churches in China to use legal procedures and the court to assert their right to freedom of religion. "Through this case, we hope to be able to pursue our freedom of religion without going to jail, and that the government will use rational and lawful means to deal with its conflicts with house churches," Wang said.
Human Rights in China called on the Chinese government to stop harassing peaceful religious practitioners.