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BosNewsLife – China ‘s government has ordered a top law firm in Beijing to close for one year because of its involvement in defending Christians, including house church leaders, and other religious minorities, a religious rights watchdog said.

In a statement monitored by BosNewsLife Saturday, November 5, the US-based China Aid Association (CAA) said the director of Beijing Shengzhi Law Firm, Gao Zhisheng, received a “formal government notice that all of his law firm operations are suspended for one year.”

The notice came Friday, November 4, just hours after Gao filed “parole documents with the Beijing People’s Court of Haidian District for Xiao Yunfei, the wife of jailed house church leader Pastor Cai Zhuohua,” CAA said.

Gao is among the lawyers defending the pastor and his wife as well as two family members, who were arrested last September on charges of “illegal business practices” for printing and distributing “hundreds of thousands of copies” of the Bible and other Christian literature, CAA added.

They were jailed following a trial, but still await a final verdict. Gao reportedly complained to authorities that the arrests of his clients Pastor Cai and other family members and their post-trial detention for over a year without a verdict “is illegal” under Chinese law.

“It widely believed that the retributive actions taken against Mr. Gao and his law firm by the Chinese government is due to his active role in defending human rights and religious freedom cases like Pastor Cai’s case,” CAA claimed. Chinese officials have not commented.

Gao also defended several other high profile cases including persecuted members of the Falun Gong sect, the religious rights group said.

After days of intensive investigations and interviews with numerous victims Gao recently issued an open letter to both Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao demanding “they stop persecuting peaceful Falun Gong practitioners,” CAA explained.

“It is a very dark day and a devastating blow to the rule of law in China ,” said CAA President Bob Fu, in a statement to BosNewsLife. “Instead of holding the human rights and religious freedom violators accountable, the Chinese government chooses to suppress these conscientious defenders of human rights,” he added.

Before the latest reported incident, the Chinese government denied its involvement in human rights abuses. Authorities say they only crackdown on sects deemed dangerous to Chinese society or those violating China ‘s laws.

Human rights watchers have linked reports of persecution to alleged fears within the Communist government that the growing number of religious groups will undermine its ideology and powerbase. The ‘unofficial’ house churches are particularly targeted as most of China ‘s estimated 80-million Christians visit them, church groups say.