January 7th, 2008 14:39 EST
Beijing Christian Businessman Shi Weihan Released on Bail
China Aid Association has learned that on January 4, Christian bookstore owner, Shi Weihan along with two dozen others associated with his case, have been released on bail. Chinese officials have decided against a formal trial for Shi, and criminal charges against the accused have been dismissed.
Eyewitnesses told CAA that Shi was in good spirits and relatively stable physical condition. Shi's family members asked CAA to thank the tireless efforts of the international community for his release.
Shi, and the others, have been detained for the past 37 days under charges of illegal printing and distribution of Christian literature. According to Chinese law after 37 days of administrative detention, a formal arrest warrant must be issued or the accused must be released.
Sources state that the Beijing Haidian District prosecution office assigned to Shi's case determined that they were unable to proceed with formal charges due to "insufficient evidence." Regardless of the reasoning for Shi's unconditional release, it is evident that international attention and pressure on the case were instrumental in influencing the court's decision.
"The Chinese government has made a positive step in the right direction regarding this case," CAA's President Bob Fu stated. "This is a clear victory of rule of law and international intervention."
The Government's upright decision to release Shi and the others is a virtuous development following the Communist party's conference on the collective study of Religion and Religious policy on December 18, 2007. During the conference President Hu Jintao, reiterated the Government's stance on the "implementation of free religious policy" stressing law-abiding management on religious affairs and support to self-governance of religious groups.
While the Government's decision in the Shi Weihan case should be lauded, hundreds of prisoners persecuted for their beliefs, still remain in custody. As is the case of Xinjiang church leader Zhou Heng, who was arrested in August of 2007, for receiving "illegally printed" Bibles. Zhou, who was arraigned on the same charges as Shi Weihan, continues to serve an unjust sentence behind bars. These accounts, and others, are examples of the Chinese Government's failure to remain consistent in cases receiving less international attention.
CAA encourages the Chinese Government to follow the example set in the Shi Weihan case, and maintain consistency in its policies and rhetoric on religious freedom.