HONG KONG, November 22 (Compass)—Li Dexian, the 45-year-old Chinese house church pastor arrested near Huadu, Guangdong province on November 9, just received another 15 days of detention and fears are mounting he may be tried and sentenced to a three-year jail term.

Li has been kept in isolation since his arrest to prevent him from evangelizing other inmates.

John Short, a Christian worker and friend of Li's in Hong Kong, was informed by Chinese police today by phone that Li's detention was extended because, "He was showing no remorse for his actions."

Short also said that three other Christians arrested along with Li—a man and two women—will be released on Wednesday, November 24. One of the detained women had been kicked by arresting officers.

Under Chinese law, a person must be charged with a crime within a month of their arrest or be released. There are fears that Li's extended detention may be the prelude to such a charge, leading to a possible three-year jail sentence called 're-education through labor."

Prior to his arrest, Li had been warned four times by police to desist from his ministry of teaching in house churches. A tense standoff occurred when an annex to a house used for meetings was torn down in early October.

Other leading house church figures in Guangdong province—including Samuel Lamb in Guangzhou (Canton) and four other pastors—have been issued similar warnings. The warnings are believed to be in response to President Jiang Zemin's October 1 speech calling for tightened control over religion.

Li Dexian has been jailed before, and his fingers have been shortened by the difficult prison labor of watchmaking. He was also manacled for months while in jail in the early 1980s. Li stressed to Short, "I am not a political dissident; I am simply a servant of Jesus, compelled to preach his gospel to everyone."

"The authorities are dealing with a man who literally would rather die than not spread the gospel," Short said. "One of Li's favorite verses is 'Do not fear those who can kill the body, and after that do nothing more; rather fear Him, who after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell'."

Li maintains he should be free to preach the gospel. China only permits preaching within the confines of a designated sphere, in a designated building, by a designated pastor. In all three cases, the designating office is the Religious Affairs Bureau, a government agency run by atheists. Most Chinese Christians do not accept the state's right to limit and control all evangelistic and worship activity.

Copyright © 1999 Compass Direct

Related Elsewhere

The U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom examines China's religious freedom from political and societal perspectives, and remarks on what the U.S. government has done in response to human rights infringements in the country

See our July 13, 1998, cover story on Christianity in China: "A Tale of China's Two Churches," by Timothy C. Morgan.