China: Christian Church Leader Arrested and at Risk of Torture For Possession of Religious DVDs
Zhang Rongliang is diabetic and there are concerns that he may not receive the medical care or treatment he needs. Amnesty International has issued an 'Urgent Action' appeal and is calling for Mr Zhangâ€™s immediate and unconditional release.
Mr Zhang is the leader of the largest unofficial "house church" networks in China. He was detained on 1 December for possessing Christian DVDs, photographs and other materials that revealed Mr Zhangâ€™s "connection with foreigners, foreign agencies and overseas organisations". Communicating with people overseas can be grounds for imprisonment in China.
Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:
"The fundamental right to peacefully practise religion is under serious threat in China and Zhang Rongliang is at grave risk of torture simply for his religious and spiritual beliefs.
"To persecute and torture somebody for their beliefs contravenes all international human rights principles. We are appealing to the Chinese authorities to release Zhang Rongliang immediately and unconditionally."
The arrest of Zhang Rongliang comes after more than 100 pastors from "underground" churches in Henan province were imprisoned in September 2004.
Some of these have been jailed after unfair trials and 11 have been sent to labour camps for "re-education". They were accused of leading an "evil cult" and have reportedly been severely beaten.
Anyone in China who practises their religion outside government control is at serious risk of arrest, unfair trial and torture. A crackdown on underground churches has been underway since March 2003 and the authorities have demolished many unauthorised places of worship used by Protestants and Catholics.
Zhang Rongliang is known to people outside China through international media reports on religion in China and is also a co-author of the book "House Churches of China: confession of faith and declaration". He has already been imprisoned five times for his beliefs, serving 12 years during which time he was severely tortured.
A picture of Zhang Rongliang is available from the Amnesty International UK press office.
Each of five officially recognised religions in China - Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism - is administered by a government organisation that controls places of worship and monitors religious activities.
People who wish to practise a religion can only do so at a state-sanctioned church, mosque or temple. This rigid political control has driven many Christian churches underground. Members of these churches meet in private house rather then state-sanctioned church buildings.
In China, torture and ill-treatment continue to be widespread and is reported in many state institutions as well as in workplaces and homes. Common methods of torture include kicking, beating, electric shocks, suspension by the arms, shackling in painful positions, and sleep and food deprivation.