07/10/2006, 00.00
CHINA
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China condemns six Protestant pastors to death without proof

They were charged with homicide and fraud but their lawyers say the evidence was inconsistent and their clients' confessions were extracted by torture. This was revealed by the China Aid Association.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – The Chinese justice system has condemned six Protestant leaders to death for homicide and fraud. Their lawyers said the evidence presented against them was not sufficient to incriminate any of them and their confessions – which clinched the case for the judges – were extracted by torture. This was revealed by the China Aid Association (CAA), a US-based non-governmental organization that lobbies for religious freedom in China.

The verdict was handed down by Judge Liu Qingyi of the Intermediate People's Court of Shuangyashan in the eastern Heilongjiang Province. According to a reliable source – anonymous for security reasons – that obtained a copy of the verdict, in the trial, the police brought charges against 17 people: Xu Shuangfu (60 years), Li Maoxing (55) and Wang Jun (36) were sentenced to death for murder. Also condemned to death were Zhang Min (35), Zhu Lixin (37) and Ben Zhonghai; their sentences were suspended. The judge condemned the remaining eleven to sentences ranging between three to 15 years imprisonment.

According to the government's accusations, Xu – leader of a Protestant group, Three Grades of Servants with more than 500,000 members nationwide – killed, together with another 16 convicted members of his group, 20 leaders of the Eastern Lightning group. He was also accused of embezzling over 32 million yuan (around 3.2 million euros)."

The defence lawyers – Li Heping of the Global Law (Gaobo Longhua) Firm, Beijing, and Zhang Lihui of the Beijing Branch of the Xingyun Law Office –said their clients were not guilty based upon the government's evidence. Their confessions were obtained by torture, a practice the Chinese government itself has admitted is "widespread" in its prisons.

Xu Baiyin, daughter of Xu Shuangfu, maintained her father's innocence and said: "The truth will be revealed one day before God's judgment seat even if justice is not done in this life." According to the CAA, Xu has instructed his lawyers to continue to appeal to the high court in a bid to commute his sentence.

The CAA drew attention to an intensifying clampdown on unofficial Protestants who belong to house churches across the country. On 6 July, police in

Langzhong, in Sichuan, arrested Pastor Wang Shixiu while she was shopping. Meanwhile, seven out of 30 leaders arrested on 28 May are still in custody. One pastor, who asked to remain anonymous, said that in Guangdong, public security officials were going to places of worship holding rifles. In the province, the government forced the house churches of Meixin and Wu Yang to close down.

Beijing allows the practice of Protestant Christianity only within the Movement of the Three Autonomies (MTA), born in 1950 after Mao seized power and the expulsion of foreign missionaries and church leaders, including Chinese ones.

Official statistics reveal that there are 10 million official Protestants in China, all belonging to the MTA. Unofficial Protestants, who meet in unregistered "house churches", are estimated to reach more than 50 million.

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