Chinese court orders pastors to pay millions for collecting church offerings

(Free Yang Hua organization website)Featured in the image is Pastor Li Guozhi, also known as Yang Hua.

A Chinese court has ordered two house church pastors to pay over 7 million yuan (about US$1 million) for collecting church offerings, which officials have branded "illegal income."

According to China Aid, Pastor Su Tianfu of Huoshi Church and fellow Pastor Yang Hua were fined 7,053,710.68 yuan ($1,096,499.33 USD) for collecting the same amount in church offerings from their congregation.

The two pastors were notified of the fine in May 2017, prompting them to file several appeals. Officials said that the collected money was "illegal income," but the pastors argued that it cannot be considered as such because they had only used the money on the church.

Their appeals were all denied, and the officials defended their original stance in the final verdict.

In a previous report, China Aid noted that a court had "sabotaged" a previous hearing regarding the 7 million yuan fine against the house church.

During the hearing, government officials allegedly broke protocol and did not observe relevant laws in organizing the hearing that was conducted on June 9 in a small room in the Nanming District Mass Cultural Center.

The proceedings were supposed to be open to the public, but the house church members and other local Christians were reportedly barred from entering the court. When the lawyers of the accused requested copies of court documents, the government reportedly refused.

"The religious affairs bureau did not strive to protect our legal rights throughout the process. The hearing process was an avoidance system," Pastor Su said at the time.

Houshi Church, the largest house church in Guiyang in Guizhou province, has tried to maintain an open relationship with the Chinese government since its founding in 2009. China Aid noted that the church had been informing officials of all its religious activities in order to follow Chinese law, but the authorities eventually started targeting it and subjected it to multiple raids in 2015.

On Dec. 9, 2015, Yang was arrested for trying to prevent officials from confiscating a church hard drive.

He was initially sentenced to two consecutive, five-day administrative detention for "the crime of obstructing justice and "gathering a crowd to disturb public order." But on the day of his scheduled release, his wife saw him being herded into an unlicensed vehicle. She later found out that her husband was transferred into criminal detention for "illegally possessing state secrets."

During his incarceration, Yang had reportedly suffered abuse and repeated torture at the hands of officials as his prosecutors attempted to force him to confess to his supposed crimes. On Jan. 5, 2017, a court sentenced Yang to two-and-a-half years in prison.

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