AP: Jailed Chi­nese pas­tor’s fam­ily seeks mercy

The Republican Herald - - NATION / WORLD - by yaNaN waNG

BEI­JING — The Rev. John San­qiang Cao paid no more than three dol­lars for the trip that would end up cost­ing him his free­dom.

For years, he and fel­low Chi­nese Chris­tian teach­ers would cross the river on a nar­row bam­boo raft from a tree-shrouded bank in south­ern China into neigh­bor­ing Myan­mar, car­ry­ing with them note­books, pen­cils and Bi­bles. The jour­ney that en­abled the mis­sion­ar­ies to slip be­tween the coun­tries — a dis­tance no greater than30 feet — al­ways hap­pened in broad day­light, ac­cord­ing to a U.S.-based mis­sion­ary who trav­eled with Cao.

The ride on March 5, 2017, was dif­fer­ent. Cao and a teacher were on a raft re­turn­ing to Yunnan prov­ince when they saw Chi­nese se­cu­rity agents wait­ing for them on the shore. Decades of work in China’s clan­des­tine “house” churches and un­of­fi­cial Bi­ble schools had pre­pared the promi­nent 58-year-old Chris­tian leader for this mo­ment. He quickly threw his cell­phone into the wa­ter, pro­tect­ing the iden­ti­ties of more than 50 Chi­nese teach­ers he had re­cruited to give eth­nic mi­nor­ity Burmese chil­dren a free ed­u­ca­tion rooted in Chris­tian­ity.

But Cao him­self could not es­cape. He was sen­tenced last month to seven years in prison for “or­ga­niz­ing oth­ers to il­le­gally cross the bor­der” — a crime more com­monly ap­plied to hu­man traf­fick­ers. His Amer­i­can sons and Chris­tian col­leagues — who have not been al­lowed con­tact with him since his ar­rest — spoke about the case for the first time to The As­so­ci­ated Press, ar­gu­ing that the pas­tor’s sen­tence should be re­duced in light of his hu­man­i­tar­ian work.

“Noth­ing my fa­ther or­ga­nized was ever po­lit­i­cal. It was al­ways just re­li­gious or char­i­ta­ble,” said Ben Cao, the pas­tor’s 23-year-old son, a U.S. cit­i­zen liv­ing in Char­lotte, North Carolina. “We hope that China will be mer­ci­ful, and see that my fa­ther’s in­ten­tions were good.”

Cao’s pun­ish­ment was handed down as Bei­jing pur­sues a plan to “sini­cize” the coun­try’s ma­jor re­li­gions, elim­i­nate “for­eign in­flu­ence” and align faiths more closely with the athe­ist rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party’s own doc­trines. An­a­lysts say the gov­ern­ment in­creas­ingly views Chris­tian­ity’s rise in China as a threat to its rule, and may be us­ing promi­nent fig­ures such as Cao as an ex­am­ple to in­tim­i­date nascent move­ments.

The pas­tor’s case also ap­pears to show the party wants to ex­tend its con­trol over the ac­tiv­i­ties of China’s faith­ful even when they are abroad.

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