"Sources close to the family confirm that Shi Weihan was released today, February 9, 2011, after completing a three-year prison term in the Haidian Detention Center outside of Beijing, China," an e-mail from Ray Sharpe, an American businessman and friend of Shi, said Feb. 9.
"His conviction in June of 2009, for the charge of 'illegal business activities,' was based on evidence that he had printed Bibles and other Christian literature for free distribution to poor believers in churches in rural China," the e-mail said. "No further information is yet available."
Shi's release was confirmed Feb. 10 by China Aid Association, a U.S.-based watchdog group.
Shi was arrested in November 2007 after his Holy Spirit Trading Co. printed Bibles and other Christian materials that were not approved by the Chinese government. Shi did not necessarily need permission from the government, though, because he was giving away the materials rather than selling them.
In January 2008, Shi was released due to insufficient evidence on illegal business practices but 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, 40, was held without charges, contrary to Chinese law.
Shi, a diabetic, was sentenced in June 2009 to three years in prison and a fine of nearly $22,000, presumably for illegal business practices. The time he had already spent in jail would count toward his sentence. At that time, supporters surmised that he would be released in November 2010, three years after his original arrest.
With the arrival of November and no word of his release, China Aid told Baptist Press Shi was expected to be set free in February. The founder of the first Christian private school in Beijing told China Aid last fall that Shi's wife, Zhang Jing, reported Shi is "doing fine and will be released in the coming February."
An anonymous source told Baptist Press the discrepancy between a November release date and a February date stemmed from the period of time Shi was set free between his first and second arrests. Shi would be required to remain in prison to account for the time he was temporarily released, the source said.
Last fall, Baptist Press learned that students at a middle school in Arizona had been praying for two years for Shi's release.
Jerome Redding, a seventh- and eighth-grade Bible teacher at Gilbert Christian Middle School in Gilbert, Ariz., received an e-mail a couple of years ago informing him of Shi's plight as a persecuted believer in China. Redding led his students to begin interceding for "Brother Shi," as they called him, especially as the day of his scheduled release drew near.
"We have a little prayer request board in our room, and his name is there. Today we even had a discussion where some of the students were saying, 'God doesn't want us to be in hard places or sorrowful,' and I said, 'Well, hard places, like Bro. Shi has been in prison for three years? The Lord allows things like this to happen for reasons that we don't understand.'
"So even as we're praying for him we've been able to use his situation as a teaching tool in these kids' lives," Redding said.
Students asked God to keep reminding the Chinese government of their word to release Shi, Redding said, and for God to continue using Shi while he was in prison.
Erin Roach is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.
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