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Compass – Pastor Cai Zhuohua and two other Christians found guilty on November 8 of “illegal business practices” have dropped plans to appeal their conviction, two days before a legal deadline for the appeal.

A fourth Christian, Hu Jinyun, will continue the appeal process through her own lawyers, according to a China Aid Association (CAA) report released today.

A clerk from Haidian District People’s Court visited Cai at the Qinghe detention center and warned him that his sentence would be increased if he “annoyed” the judges with an appeal, according to CAA. Facing heavy pressure, Cai, his wife and brother-in-law agreed to drop the appeal.

This decision came as President Bush began an eight-day tour of Asia . Bush intends to visit China November 19-21. In a speech made in Japan , he urged China to open the door to more political and religious freedoms, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported today.

Cai, his wife Xiao Yunfei, brother-in-law Xiao Gaowen and sister-in-law Hu Jinyun were arrested last year following a raid on a church warehouse containing 237,000 privately printed copies of the Bible and other Christian literature.

China requires a government permit for all publications; these permits are harder to obtain for religious publications.

Cai claimed the books were printed for free distribution throughout house church networks, but officials accused him and other family members of running a profit-making venture.

Judge You Tao found three of the defendants guilty. Cai was sentenced to three years, his wife to two years, and her brother to 18 months. Hu Jinyun escaped punishment by providing evidence to police, Reuters reported.

Human rights attorney Gao Zhisheng, a key lawyer on the defense team, received notice on November 4 to suspend his law practice for a year. When the judge sentenced his clients four days later, Cai and his relatives had just 10 days to lodge an appeal. The restrictions placed on Gao’s law firm, however, made this almost impossible.

Cai led six house churches in Beijing . The Epoch Times on Monday (November 14) quoted a letter from a member of one of these churches to the lawyers representing him:

“We were shocked and angry when learning that Attorney Gao Zhisheng was forced to close his legal practice because he helped people fighting for their rights,” the letter said. “You broke through many difficulties and barriers to defend Brother Cai Zhuohua and his family at the risk of your personal interests and safety. We will remember your courage in our hearts.”

The Beijing Judicial Bureau said it closed Gao’s office for failing to apply for a change of address when he changed premises and for illegally providing legal documents to other attorneys, the Epoch Times reported on Friday (November 11).

Many believe the suspension notice is also linked to an open letter Gao wrote on October 18 challenging Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, entitled, “Stop Persecuting Believers of Freedom and Mend Your Ties with the Chinese People.”

Gao has also defended members of the controversial Falun Gong movement, leading to frequent visits from Chinese officials and an investigation of his files and accounts.

Earlier this year China claimed improvements in human rights. At a session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in April, Representative Shen Yongxiang claimed that civil and political rights “range from personal freedoms to the rights to marriage and family, from the right to fair trial to freedoms of expression and belief which reflect basic ethical and social principles of mankind … Therefore, civil and political rights are universal.”

He qualified this statement by saying, “To realize civil and political rights, countries inevitably have different paths to development and priorities, with no superiority of one over another.”

The U.S. State Department released a report on November 8 citing China as one of the worst violators of religious freedom worldwide.