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(ANS) – A Chinese court sentenced officials of China’s rapidly growing independent house church movement to up to three years in prison Friday, August 6, on charges of leaking “state secrets” to overseas organizations, human rights watchers said. In a statement to the Associated Press (AP) news agency, the China Aid Association (CAA) reported that the Intermediate Peoples Court of Hangzhou city in Zhejiang found Xu Yonghai, Liu Fenggang and Zhang Shengqi “guilty of passing on information to an overseas magazine” about a court case involving another house church member. Liu received three years for passing on information about the destruction of unofficial churches outside Hangzhou in a crackdown last year, AP quoted CAA as saying. Xu received two years and Zhang one year, the group said. The prison terms were less severe than expected, as CAA had warned the Christians under Chinese Criminal Law, could face up to ten years or even life in prison if convicted.

Catholics have not forgotten the Bishop of Baoding ( Hebei ), Joseph Fan Xueyan, whom many would like to see canonized as a new martyr of China . In 1992, after months of detention, he was returned dead by police: his body was closed in a plastic bag and showed evident signs of torture, AsiaNews reported. Among Protestants, evangelical groups such as the Church of South China , who have suffered torture on various occasions and whose founder, Gong Shengliang, is still in prison. Several evangelical Christians are known to have been tortured to death this year, including a church teacher as well as a woman who distributed bibles, ASSIST News Service monitored.