WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States strongly condemned on Thursday the “brutal beating” of two sons of a detained Beijing pastor and voiced concern over what it said was a pattern of intimidation of religious leaders in China.
State Department spokesman Robert Wood said Beijing-based pastor Zhang Mingxuan, president of the China House Church Alliance, had been detained along with his wife, and their two sons were beaten up this month by public security officials.
“We are gravely concerned by the brutal beating of Pastor Zhang ‘Bike’ Mingxuan’s two sons by public security officials,” said Wood, who did not provide details of the beatings.
“We are also deeply concerned by the continuing official harassment of Pastor Zhang, a prominent Beijing house church leader, including his arbitrary detention and the forced relocation of his family,” he said.
Wood urged the government of China to immediately release Zhang, allow his relatives to return home and to condemn “violent acts” committed against his sons and bring to justice those responsible for the beatings.
China has about 40 million active Christians with their numbers evenly divided between state-run and underground churches, including those held in people’s homes.
“We are concerned about a pattern of intimidation of religious freedom and rule of law advocates and their family members,” Wood said.
Two U.S. lawmakers, Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia and Rep Chris Smith of New Jersey, wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday to urge her to press China’s government to free Zhang, who they said was detained on October 16 in Kunming City, Yunnan province and was scheduled to be transferred to Nanyang City in Henan province.
The Republican lawmakers said Zhang’s oldest son, Zhang Jian, was severely beaten while his mother looked on during a raid of their Beijing home.
His younger brother was also beaten by Public Security Bureau officials when he tried to help his injured brother.
“When Zhang Jian’s mother called the ambulance, the receptionist told her that she had been given orders by government officials not to dispatch any emergency personnel to the Zhang’s home,” the congressmen wrote to Rice.
The pastor’s wife was detained on October 19 by Chinese authorities. Her whereabouts were unknown, the lawmakers said, adding that the United States could not allow such “reprehensible and unjust actions” to continue.
China’s ruling Communist Party regards religious and other groups as potential threats to its power and regularly detains pastors and priests.
Zhang and his wife were removed from Beijing in July in a bid to control dissidents in the run-up to the Beijing Olympic Games.
Separately, the United States also urged China immediately to release human rights activist Hu Jia, who was awarded the European Parliament’s top human rights prize on Thursday.
Hu was jailed for subversion after testifying to the European Parliament’s human rights subcommittee last year.
State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said the United States had pressed China “on many occasions and at the highest levels” to release Hu.
Hu was sentenced to 3-1/2 years in prison in China in April. Hu, 35, had already spent many months under house arrest with his wife and child.
Editing by Cynthia Osterman