Cai Zhuohua Imprisoned for Illegally Printing and Distributing Bibles
BEIJING, Nov. 8 — A prominent pastor in Beijing’s underground Protestant church was sentenced to three years in prison Tuesday for illegally printing and distributing Bibles and other religious books, in a case that has attracted attention from Christian groups in the United States and elsewhere.
The Beijing People’s Intermediate Court handed down the sentence immediately after convicting Cai Zhuohua, 34, of the crime of conducting “illegal business practices,” said his attorney, Zhang Xingshui. Two co-defendants were also convicted and sentenced to prison, he said.
The sentencing comes less than two weeks before President Bush is scheduled to visit China and underscores a sense among U.S. diplomats and human rights activists that the Chinese government has decided not to release a political prisoner as a symbolic gesture before the visit as it has done in advance of other visits by U.S. presidents.
Cai’s sentence, although less than the 10-year maximum he faced, could be seen as an insult to the Bush administration, which has repeatedly highlighted freedom of religion as a top concern in human rights talks with Chinese leaders. U.S. diplomats had also raised concerns about Cai’s case with the Chinese authorities.
“This is not an acceptable result,” said Bob Fu, president of the China Aid Association, a Christian rights organization based in Midland, Tex., in a statement. “We urge President Bush to use his upcoming visit to China to address the serious religious persecution in this case.”
There was no immediate comment from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
Cai’s wife, Xiao Yunfei, and her brother, Xiao Gaowen, were also convicted in the case and received two-year and 18-month prison sentences, respectively. A fourth defendant, Cai’s sister-in-law, Hu Jinyun, was convicted of “concealing stolen goods,” a reference to funds earned through the alleged sale of the Bibles, but was spared punishment because she cooperated with police, lawyers said.
The four defendants were led handcuffed into the courtroom and stood silently as a judge announced their sentences, Zhang said. He said none of them were permitted to address the court during the 20-minute hearing, and he was unable to speak to Cai before police took him away.
Prosecutors had accused Cai and the others of “illegally seeking profit” by printing hundreds of thousands of Bibles and other Christian tracts. Court papers indicated that police seized more than 237,000 volumes from a warehouse that Cai used, said Jin Xiaoguang, the attorney who represented Cai’s brother-in-law.
The Chinese government requires Christians to worship in state-controlled churches, and the official church is the only authorized publisher of Bibles and other religious works, which are produced in strictly controlled quantities and cannot be sold in ordinary bookstores.
Speaking in an interview in July with Ta Kung Pao, a pro-Beijing newspaper in Hong Kong, China’s top religious affairs official said Cai illegally published 40 million Bibles and other Christian books and illegally sold 2 million of them.
“Objectively speaking, religion is a breakthrough point for Western anti-China forces to Westernize and split China,” said Ye Xiaowen, director of the State Bureau of Religious Affairs. But he said that did not mean all religious people should be seen as “aliens” or all religious problems considered “infiltration.” He said “there is no so-called persecution of religious people” in China.
“The Cai Zhuohua case is just a crime of illegal business practices,” he said. “It is not influenced by China’s policy of freedom of religious belief.”
Zhang acknowledged his client published Bibles without the government’s permission but denied Cai sold any of them, saying that he distributed them for free.
“Although he didn’t get permission from the Bureau of Religious Affairs, this was non-profit, private proselytizing behavior, and it did no harm to society,” Zhang said. “He may have violated regulations, but not criminal law, and I don’t think he should have been convicted.”