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China shuts down house church after imposing $1 million fine on pastors

(Free Yang Hua Organization Official Website)Featured in the image is Pastor Li Guozhi, also known as Yang Hua.

Authorities in Guizhou province has shut down a large house church and began confiscating its property, just weeks after its pastors were fined more than $1 million for collecting offerings.

According to China Aid, local authorities began confiscating the property of Huoshi Church on Jan. 19, even though the order only came from an executive branch from the court and does not constitute a court order.

Huoshi Church, the largest unregistered church in Guizhou's capital of Guiyang, had drawn hundreds of attendees since it was founded in 2009.

The church was initially able to maintain a peaceful relationship with the government by informing officials of all of its religious activities to comply with the law. But the authorities eventually started targeting the church, and subjected it to multiple raids in 2015, following the opening of its church building in 2014.

Officials started arresting many of its members, including Pastor Yang Hua, who was taken into police custody on Dec. 9, 2015 for trying to prevent the authorities from confiscating a church hard drive.

Yang initially received two consecutive five-day detention sentences after being charged with the "crime of obstructing justice" and "gathering a crowd to disturb public order." But on the day he was supposed to be released, the officials transferred him to criminal detention and accused him of illegally possessing state secrets.

He was formally arrested by the government after the charge was changed to "divulging state secrets." The pastor was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail after a trial on Dec. 26, 2016.

During his time in prison, Yang was reportedly tortured and had suffered from Henoch-Schonlein Purpura, a blood vessel disorder. China Aid reported that his ailment was mistreated by prison doctors until he could no longer walk from the pain.

Yang was deemed to be in "critical" condition when he was finally allowed to go to a hospital. He was later transferred by officials to another prison, where he recuperated.

Last May, Yang and his colleague, Pastor Su Tianfu, were ordered to pay the fine of 7,053,710.68 yuan (US$1,096,499.33) for collecting the same amount in church offerings, which the officials said was "illegal income." The two pastors, however, contended that it cannot be considered illegal income because the church members donated them on their free will and they had only used the money for church-related expenses.

A hearing took place late last year at the Baiyun District Court, which ruled against the pastors and ordered them to pay the fine. The court reportedly issued a notice to forcibly close the church just a few weeks after handing down the ruling.

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