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China House Church Leader Released, Group Says

By BosNewsLife News Center (02/08/06)

(BosNewsLife) – Chinese House church leader Xu Yonghai has returned home after over two years of imprisonment on charges of “providing state secrets to overseas organizations,” BosNewsLife learned Wednesday, February 8.

The well-informed advocacy group Human Rights in China (HRIC), said it established that Xu “was released recently and has returned to his home in Beijing .” HRIC, which has offices in Hong Kong and New York , added that Xu was imprisoned in Hangzhou , the capital of Zhejiang province, “for more than 80 days longer than he should have been.”

House church leader Liu Fenggant, who also received a two-year prison sentence in the same case as Xu, was believed to be still in detention Wednesday, February 8, despite international concerns over his health. “The health of house church leader Liu Fenggang is deteriorating in prison due to lack of treatment for his heart condition,” HRIC claimed.

Liu Fenggang, 45, was detained on October 13, 2003, while Xu Yonghai, 44, along with Zhang Shengqi, 30, were detained in November 2003, said human rights group Amnesty International (AI). The three Protestant Christians were captured during what rights activists described as “an intensified crackdown against unofficial churches” in Zhejiang Province , launched by Chinese authorities in March 2003.

CHURCHES DESTROYED

In July 2003 over a dozen house churches were reportedly destroyed and at least 300 Christians arrested and some were ill-treated and beaten, AI claimed.

Liu, Xu and Zhang were reportedly charged under Article 111 of the Criminal Law with “providing state secrets to foreign organizations,” and tried in secret on March 16, 2004, by Hangzhou Intermediate People’s Court in Zhejiang Province.

The three men were accused by prosecutors of “providing state secrets to foreign organizations” because Liu Fenggang’s wrote, researched and publicized several reports over a two-year period, documenting the destruction of churches and the alleged harsh treatment suffered by members of underground congregations.

CHRISTIAN LIFE QUARTERLY

According to the indictment Xu Yonghai, a doctor, sent these documents to a US-based Chinese-language magazine, Christian Life Quarterly, while Zhang Shengqi, a computer technician, e-mailed the reports overseas.

On 6 August 2004, the court sentenced Liu Fenggang to three years, Xu Yonghai, to two years and Zhang Shengqi to one year. These sentences included the period of time that they had already served in pre-trial detention.

Chinese authorities have strongly denied human rights abuses and say they only act against Christians violating Chinese law. However human rights groups point out that believers are only allowed to worship in the state backed churches.

OFFICIAL CHURCHES

About 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, according to Christian human rights group Open Doors.

Most of estimated 80-million Christians in China are attending the underground house churches.

“In recent years there has been increasing persecution of Protestants and Catholics who have not formally registered with the state-sanctioned churches,” AI claimed. “Many have been fined, lost their jobs, arrested, imprisoned and tortured for activities relating to their conscientiously held religious or spiritual beliefs, or for defending the right to freedom of religion of others,” the group said.