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BosNewsLife – A Beijing court sentenced house church leader Cai Zhuohuato, his wife and her brother to a combined sentence of nearly seven years in prison Tuesday, November 8, for printing hundreds of thousands of Bibles and other Christian literature, a friend and former co-worker said.

The pastor, who led at least six house churches, received a three year sentence from the People’s Court of Haidian on charges of “illegal business practices” for playing a key role in printing and distributing Bibles and publications, including house church magazine Ai Yan or ‘Love Feast’, his friend Bob Fu told BosNewsLife in a statement.

Pastor Cai’s wife Xiao Yunfei was sentenced to two years and her brother Xiao Gaowenone to one and a half years in prison on the same charges, added Fu, who fled China and now runs China Aid Association (CAA), an American, Texas based, religious rights group which has close contacts with house churches.

Xiao Gaowenone’s wife Hu Jinyun, who was also charged with wrongdoing, was exempt from further punishment and is expected to be released shortly “after her lawyer finishes relevant legal papers,” said Fu.

Pastor Cai’s defense team has reportedly announced it will appeal the sentence. “This is not an acceptable result,” said Fu, who closely worked with Pastor Cai in the past. “We urge President [George W.] Bush to use his upcoming visit to China to address this serious religious persecution case,” he stressed.

Among those watching Tuesday’s procedures were Cai’s mother and Xiao Yunfei’s parents, Fu explained. It was unclear if foreign observers were allowed to be present, but the case has gained international attention.

Pastor Cai was arrested on September 11, 2004 at a bus stop, where he was allegedly dragged into a van by state security officers on charges of “illegal business practices,” CAA said earlier. Soon after other family members were detained.

Tuesday’s sentence came shortly after six house church leaders from Henan Province were arrested on November 6 during Sunday worship with approximately 100 believers, CAA added.

Two of them, Yuan Quansan and Guang Wei, were believed to be still in detention Tuesday, November 8.

CAA said it has also received “reliable reports” that about a dozen house church leaders of the influential China Gospel Fellowship movement have been arrested in various cities in Hunan Province since July of this year.

Some church leaders were given unknown drugs, tortured and forced to spy on the church, a common tactic in Communist countries, CAA said. There was no immediate independent confirmation of these reports. Several human rights groups, including Amnesty International (AI), have expressed concern about the treatment of religious minorities.

“Members of unofficial spiritual or religious groups, including some Qi Gong groups and unregistered Christian groups, continued to be arbitrarily detained, tortured and ill-treated,” AI said in a recent report.

Human rights activists have linked the reported crackdown to frustration within the Communist government about the growing number of house churches, which it allegedly sees as a threat to its ideology and powerbase. Most of the up to 80-million Christians in China are attending house churches, said Christian rights group Open Doors in a recent position statement on China.

“Barely 17 million worship in the two officially organized churches of China — the Protestant Three Self Patriotic Movement with 12 million members and the Catholic Patriotic Association with 5 million members,” Open Doors estimated.

China ‘s government has denied human rights abuses, and says Christians are free to practice their religion in the state sanctioned churches.