Lincang (AsiaNews/ChinaAid) – A court in Lincang (southern Yunnan) sentenced a group of Christians up to 13 years in prison for belonging to an apocalyptic sect that the authorities deem an illegal “cult”.
One of them, Ju Dianhong received a 13-year sentence for leading the sect, recruiting new followers, carrying out missionary work, and spreading rumours about an imminent apocalypse.
Ju said she will appeal her sentence, noting that she had never heard of the sect, nor does she know the meaning of the word "cult".
She explained that she only believes in and prays to Jesus Christ and has never harmed anyone or acted against the principles of the Bible.
The sect in question is that of the Three Grades of Servants, an underground pseudo-Protestant group founded in Henan. It claims to have millions of followers, especially in the countryside.
The sect was founded by one Xu Shuangfu, who was sentenced to death in 2006 for killing members of another competing sect and stealing millions from his followers.
However, at the time, Xu's daughter, Baiyin, said that her father had signed a confession that had been extorted under torture.
Along with Ju Dianhong, five other people were convicted, their sentences ranging from four to ten years in jail.
According to ChinaAid, at least 200 members of the group were arrested in Yunnan and 40 are waiting to be indicted and prosecuted.
Even though Chinese law guarantees defendants the right to legal counsel, the authorities have tried to intimidate the accused’s lawyers by threatening to review (and suspend) their license to practice.
Still, one of the lawyers, Xiao Yunyang, said that he and his colleagues will continue to defend their clients.
According to scholars at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, sects are spreading in the countryside because they meet an immediate religious need in a society that officially professes atheism.
At the same time, group support and help fill a gap left by a government that does not provide people with proper social services.