02/19/2008, 00.00
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Shangdong, 261 Protestant leaders arrested: 21 condemned to 3 years in labour camps

The police have carried out a raid on a meeting of unauthorised Protestant pastors, gathered together for leadership training. The 21 most influential members of the group have been condemned to forced labour, while the rest have been set free.

Linyi (AsiaNews) - The police of the eastern province of Shangdong have arrested, during a raid, 261 Protestant leaders of the Chinese "domestic churches": of these, the 21 most authoritative have been sentenced to punishments that range from 15 months to 3 years of forced labour. This is reported by the China Aid Association (CAA), a non-governmental organisation that works for the respect of religious freedom in China.

The mass arrest took place in the district of Hedong, near the provincial capital of Linyi, last December 7. The group of pastors had gathered for leadership training: the police interrupted the meeting and accused those present of being members of an "evil cult."

Most of those arrested were released after a few weeks, but a few days ago the 21 most important leaders of the group were sent to a camp of "re-education through labour." According to their families, the police refused to provide the name or location of the camps.

China considers Protestant Christianity as one of the five religions accepted in the country, but it requires the faithful to register in the Movement of the Three Autonomies, a sort of official Christian denomination created by Mao Zedong. There are about 10 million faithful in this group, while about 50 million unauthorised Protestants - who gather in unregistered "domestic churches".

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