|Pastor Hao Zhiwei (left) and her late husband. Hao was arrested last year but has still not faced trial. (Photo by= SCMP/Handout)|
[Asia News Communication = Reporter Reakkana] A Protestant house church pastor in China was charged with fraud over her handling of church offerings, raising fears that her conviction could set a dangerous legal precedent for other “house church” leaders.
Hao Zhiwei, a former minister at a Protestant church in Ezhou in central Hubei province, was arrested in July last year and charged four months later, according to an indictment issued by the city prosecutors in December. Hao, 48, is accused of swindling 2.24 million yuan (US$332,850) in church offerings.Two church staff members, Hong Ying and Wang Yuanxiang, were also accused of fraud but warranted leniency because they confessed, the indictment said.
Prosecutors have yet to set a trial date and while Hao has remained in detention, her two sons, one 13 years old and the other 17, have been left to fend for themselves because Hao’s husband died two years ago. Si Weijiang, Hao’s lawyer, said his client had refused to plead guilty and faced at least 10 years in prison if convicted. Si said he was also worried that a conviction could set a precedent in using financial irregularities to prosecute leaders of house churches, institutions that are not approved by the state. About two-thirds of the estimated 60-90 million Protestants in China attend independently operated churches that are commonly called house churches.