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San Francisco Chronicle – The matronly woman reading the Bible to a dozen solemn migrant workers in her tiny but tidy living room heads a family of dangerous political provocateurs, in the eyes of the Chinese government.

Her family’s crime: believing the state should have no role in how they follow their faith and share it with others.

It’s a belief for which 62-year-old Cai Laiyi has paid a heavy price. On Tuesday, authorities sentenced her son, Cai Zhouhua, to three years in prison for distributing free Bibles he had printed himself and for running an unregistered Protestant church. His wife, Xiao Yun Fei, along with Xiao’s brother, Xiao Gao Wen, and his wife, Hu Jin Yun, who were also arrested with him, were given 18-month terms.

The judgments were handed down just days before President Bush arrives in Beijing for a visit.

“He was arrested on Sept. 11 last year,” Cai Laiyi said of her son. “Frankly, the significance of this date seemed a bit distant earlier. Now we have our own tragedy, but whereas your attack came from outside, the perpetrators here are those in the government. Democracy and freedom are being destroyed in this country from within.”

A murmur of assent rises around the room as Cai’s congregation voices its ire at a government the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedoms lists as a “particularly severe violator of religious freedom” for its suppression of independent religious groups.

“The (Communist) Party wants us to obey only them,” said Cai, who is called “Mother” by her congregation. “They don’t want the people to hear the real words of love, of God, because they know the people will find something new to believe in.”

To retain control over religion — particularly faiths with foreign connections, such as Islam and Christianity — the government bars its people from following the established heads of these religions. And in officially atheist China , the printing of Bibles and all other religious publications needs approval from the State Bureau of Religious Affairs.

The party has created its own “Catholic” and “Protestant” churches, called the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and the Three-Selves Patriotic Movement, respectively. Both appoint their own clergy and are supposed to maintain complete religious and financial independence from the Vatican and foreign Protestant churches.

“That is really a preposterous idea,” said Wu Guo Yin, a laundry owner originally from central Henan province in Cai’s Protestant congregation. The official church “is headed by a Communist who doesn’t believe in God, yet he feels he can stand at the door between us and our God.”…[Go To Full Story]