07/09/2007, 00.00
CHINA
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Arrest, jail terms, fines for 22 evangelical leaders

Two Protestant pastors were condemned to a year of forced labour on charges of “using an evil cult to obstruct the law”. Another two are in prison without charge and they will face the same fate. They were caught handing out Bibles.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Arbitrary arrests, sentences handed down without proof and violence during interrogation: a new wave of persecution has recently struck unofficial Christians in Chinese provinces, according to the China Aid Association (CAA), a US-based organisation fighting for religious freedom in China.

The CAA claimed that the authorities of the eastern Shandong province condemned two leaders of evangelical house churches to a year of “re-education through labour”. The two leaders, Zhang Geming and Sun Qingwen, were accused of “using an evil cult to obstruct the law”. They will serve their sentence in a camp in Jining.

Local sources said both were evangelical missionaries sent from the central province of Henan to Shandong. They were detained by police on June 15 along with 4 other local pastors, who were released on 1 July  after paying a 10,000 yuan around 1000 euros) fine. 

Meanwhile, always according to the CAA, two Christian leaders of the central province of Shanxi are being held in custody in a detention centre and they are very likely to be condemned to forced labour.

Zhou Jieming and Niu Wenbin were imprisoned on 10 June on suspicion of “using an evil cult to obstruct the law”. The two pastors were arrested the previous day when together with another 12 local Christian leaders, they were caught distributing bibles in Jiaocheng county. Four of those arrested were released on the same day and another six were released after spending six days in prison without charge.

On 29 June, another Christian was detained and sentenced to 10 days in prison. Gao Qiuxian, the wife of pastor Zhang Tuanyuan (who is currently in jail) was detained when she went to the Public Security Bureau to ask abut the reason for the arrest of the six leaders who were released the day before. According to witnesses, five of those arrested were beaten by police during interrogation.

Beijing allows the practice of evangelical Christianity only within the Movement of the Three Autonomies (MTA), an organisation set up in 1950 after Mao seized power and expelled foreign missionaries and church leaders, including Chinese ones. According to official figures, there are about 10 million Protestants in China, all belonging to the MTA.

But unofficial Protestants, who meet in unregistered "house churches", are estimated to be more than 50 million. Last year the government arrested 1958 pastors and members of unofficial Protestant churches.

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