11/06/2015, 00.00
CHINA
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Buddhist cleric gets life for criticising party corruption

Known for his activism in favour of democracy and human rights since 1989, Wu Zeheng has already spent 11 years in prison for writing an open letter criticising the government. For human rights activist, “He is the victim of both religious suppression and political persecution”.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – The Zhuhai City Intermediate People’s Court convicted Buddhist leader Wu Zeheng on charges relating to his religious group’s alleged activities, i.e. organising or using an illegal cult to undermine implementation of the law (12 years), rape (life), fraud (14 years), and production and sale of harmful food (6 years). Wu was also fined 7.15 million yuan.

In reality, the authorities targeted Wu for his beliefs and peaceful activities, including his human rights activism, which dates back to his time as a student leader in the 1989 pro-democracy movement.

For human rights activists in China and abroad, the decision is a disgrace, an attack on religious freedom and political rights.

Known as Zen Master Xingwu, Wu founded the Buddhist-inspired Huazang Dharma group in the early 1990s. Inspired by the principles of justice and freedom, the group has attracted thousands of members. For the authorities, it is instead a subversive group.

Wu’s conviction is not his first time he had a brush with the law. In 2000, a Beijing court had sentenced him to 11 years in prison for “economic crimes” after he sent open letters to senior Chinese Communist Party leaders criticising corruption within the Party and authorities’ infringements of citizens’ religious liberties.

During his past imprisonment, Wu reported being subject to torture and other forms of mistreatment, including sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, and forced labour.

Along with Wu, the Zhuhai court also sentenced three of his disciples – Ms Meng Yue, Ms Yuan Ming, and Mr Zhao Weiping – to between three and four years’ imprisonment.

“Wu’s life sentence is an outrage. He is the victim of both religious suppression and political persecution,” said Renee Xia, international director for the Chinese Human Rights Defender (CHRD), an NGO that includes domestic and overseas Chinese human rights activists and groups.

“This case,” she adds, “further exemplifies the government’s ramping up of its assault against independent religious and spiritual groups whose growing influence is perceived as a threat.”

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