Jailed pastor's family escapes from China to the US after 'harassment by authorities'
Zhang's daughter, son-in-law and grandchild spirited out of the country by activists via Southeast Asia
Three family members of jailed pastor Zhang Shaojie have sneaked out of China to the United States with the help of activists after complaining about an extended campaign of harassment by the authorities, a Christian rights group said yesterday.
Zhang’s daughter, son-in-law and one-year-old grandchild landed in Dallas, Texas, and have now gone to Midland, according to US-based China Aid.
The group said an underground network of activists helped the three leave China via Southeast Asia.
Zhang, who led the Nanle County Christian Church in the central province of Henan, was sentenced this month to 12 years in prison on charges of fraud and gathering crowds to disturb public order.
Zhang’s church is sanctioned by the communist government, which allows worship only in state-monitored groups, but was involved in a dispute with local authorities over land for a new building.
While land disputes are common in the mainland, Zhang’s popularity prompted other Christians to rally around him to defend what they say is religious freedom.
China Aid founder Bob Fu said that after Zhang was sentenced, his elderly parents received threats and were harassed, his daughter’s car was kept by police and Nanle officials mobilised different government agencies to write to the court to ask for a longer sentence.
Fu said Zhang’s daughter, Zhang Huixin; her husband, Sun Zhulei; and their daughter, Sun Jiexi, were blocked at Beijing’s airport on June 23 from leaving the country by Chinese security officials citing “national security”. Nanle and Henan police officers were also at the airport monitoring them, he said.
Fu then flew to Southeast Asia to activate a network that escorted the three out of China and to the United States. He said US authorities gave the family authoriation to enter the country for one year during which they could decide whether to appeal for asylum on the grounds of religious freedom.
Calls to Nanle police and the press office of the Nanle Communist Propaganda Department rang unanswered. A press officer at the Henan police department said he did not have any information about Zhang Huixin and her family.
A spokesman for the US embassy in Beijing, Nolan Barkhouse, would not confirm the account.
The three arrived yesterday in Midland, Texas, and were staying in a guesthouse owned by the First Baptist Church, Fu said.
“Our family and our church want to thank the US government and many anonymous church leaders in different parts of the world for helping assist our family¡¦s hard fought freedom,” Zhang Huixin was quoted as saying in an e-mail from Fu.
“Our family comes here to raise awareness of the deteriorating situation of religious freedom in Nanle and in China," she was quoted as saying.