Chinese court officials have reportedly broken multiple laws and protocols while hearing a case involving a house church, which recently called for a hearing to dispute a 7 million yuan fine (about $1 million USD).
China Aid reported that Houshi Church, the largest house church in Guiyang in Guizhou province, called for a hearing on June 9 after it was fined approximately 7,054,000 yuan ($1,020,200 USD).
The Nanming District Religious Affairs Bureau levied the fine for the large amount, arguing that the donations to the church between April 2009 and November 2015 were "illegal income."
During the hearing, which was held on June 9 in a small room in the Nanming District Mass Cultural Center, the government officials reportedly broke protocol and did not observe the relevant laws in organizing the proceedings.
Although the hearing was supposed to be open to the public, the police have prevented the church members and other local Christians from entering. The lawyers representing Huoshi Church had requested that the officials from religious affairs bureau responsible from the fine be excluded from the hearing, but the government refused.
"The religious affairs bureau did not strive to protect our legal rights throughout the process," said Su Tianfu, one of the church's pastors. "The hearing process was an avoidance system," he added.
According to China Aid, the officials who oversaw the hearing had been taking part in the attacks against Huoshi Church. The legal team had asked for the removal of the hearing's recorder, as she had been involved in past actions against the Church, but she remained in court during the proceedings.
The lawyers also alleged that the director of the hearing, Qiao Gaohua, had used illegal methods to conduct the hearing, and said that it should have been stopped immediately. The government also allegedly refused to provide the lawyers with copies of documents from the court.
"The government officials broke laws by attending this hearing. The court clerk and Director Qiao were both in charge of this case and should have left the hearing, according to the avoidance system and relevant laws, by which they refused to abide," said one member of the church's legal team, Xiao Yunyang.
"In addition, we demanded to make photocopies of the case files and evidence, so we would have enough time to prepare, but were turned down by the government. The day before the hearing, we then asked the government officials to make copies for us, but they said no," Xiao added.
Huoshi Church, which was founded in 2009, had approximately 500 members before it was raided in December 2015. One of its pastors, Yang Hua, was convicted of "divulging state secrets" and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison in January.