Shi Weihan, the Chinese bookstore owner who has been imprisoned for more than a year, was sentenced June 10 to three years in prison and a fine of nearly $22,000 presumably for "illegal business practices."
Shi's friend Ray Sharpe, an Illinois businessman, told Baptist Press the sentence was described as running from Nov. 28, 2007, when Shi was first arrested, to Nov. 27, 2010. That would mean the time he already has spent in jail counts toward his sentence.
"It could have been much worse, but it is totally unfair and improper regardless," Sharpe said. "I'm somewhat relieved that they're not just holding him indefinitely, although they are still holding him. We won't know if they're actually going to release him in 2010 until he's released. That's just the nature of China."
After being arrested in 2007, Shi was released in January 2008 due to insufficient evidence on illegal business practice charges. He was arrested again two months later and held with virtually no communication with his family or attorney. Also for most of his time in jail, Shi, 38, was held without charges, contrary to Chinese law.
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"The other issue that I just found out about today," Sharpe said June 11, "is that apparently the government has stripped his attorney of his license to practice law, and I don't know at what point that happened and whether his attorney was even present at the trial.
"I'm trying to find that out. But the attorney was stripped of his license because of his involvement in human rights cases. They're attacking a lot of these human rights lawyers and stripping them of their licenses."
Despite charges of illegal business practices, Compass Direct News reported that Shi's store operated legally and sold only books for which he had obtained government permission. The literature printed by his Holy Spirit Trading Co., which included Bibles and other Christian materials, was not approved by the government but was given away rather than sold.
Sharpe said a judge dismissed illegal business practice charges twice previously, but the Public Security Bureau continued to hold Shi because they wanted to gather evidence for a case.
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"The whole process has really been illegal," Sharpe told BP. "It has not followed Chinese law. The charges were dismissed previously because the judge said there was no illegal business practice and the only evidence that was brought was he had printed books that were deemed illegal. But he had given all those books away, so there was no business. It was a charity operation."
Given that a sentencing finally was drummed up on the same previously dismissed charges, Sharpe said the ordeal seems driven by PSB pressure.
"They pressured him, got rid of the attorney, and convicted him of what he was previously acquitted of twice," Sharpe said, assuming Shi's attorney was not present at the trial. "It's extremely disappointing in that regard. If indeed they do release him, at least it's a relief that they didn't hold him for 25 years. You never know what happens with these situations."
Sharpe mentioned Gao Zhisheng, a prominent Christian human rights attorney in China who has been missing for more than 100 days.
"We don't even know if that fellow is still alive. So those kinds of things happen in China too," Sharpe said.
Shi suffers from diabetes, and earlier in his prison stay he was not being allowed to receive medication. Compass Direct reported that Shi has lost more than 40 pounds and has suffered health consequences from unsanitary conditions in prison.
"The written judgment is expected in 15 days, presumably to allow time for the filing of an appeal. An appeal process could take up to another year, while Shi would probably continue to be held," Sharpe said.
"Absent an appeal, it is also possible that Shi could be allowed a sort of medical parole due to his diabetic condition," he added. "Hopefully, he could then be allowed to stay in a hospital under a sort of house arrest. Please pray that this will be possible, so that his health will not further deteriorate. We are not certain whether the family will opt to appeal or not given the outcome."
Others who stood trial with Shi apparently received similar sentences. It is believed those individuals were employed by a printing company, Sharpe said.
As believers throughout the world hear news of Shi's sentence, Sharpe asked that they pray for Shi's health to be protected; for the family to have wisdom regarding an appeal; for the possibility of a medical parole; for financial provision to pay the fine; and for God's peace in the midst of such circumstances.
"We trust that God will enable Shi and his family to emerge from this ordeal even stronger in their faith and in their resolve to build the Kingdom of God," Sharpe said.