07/31/2006, 00.00
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Four Protestant leaders sentenced to a two-year term in a labour camp

Langzhong police sends the men to Laogai (re-education through labour) camps; their crime: asking the authorities to release 14 faithful arrested in a raid on a house church.

Langzhong (AsiaNews) – Sichuan authorities sentenced four underground Protestant leaders to a two-year term of "re-education through labour" in a labour camp for demanding the release of 14 worshippers who had been arrested without reason, this according to the China Aid Association (CAA), a US-based NGO fighting for religious freedom in China.

The ruling was made public last Thursday, a month after their arrest in the south-western region of Langzhong province.

The four men—Li Ming, Wang Yuan, Li Mingbo and Jin Jirong—belong to the Chinese House Church Alliance, which groups non-government-sanctioned churches from across the country.

They were seized as they appealed to officers for the release of 14 congregants during a raid against a house church.

An officer at Langzhong police headquarters said he wasn't authorised to release any information about the case and refused to give his name.

Chinese law allows police to impose sentences of up to three years in Laogai (re-education through labour) camps without trial, a system ostensibly intended to convert minor criminals into upstanding citizens, but in fact used to undermine the resistance of religious and political dissidents.

Beijing has restricted Protestant religious activities to the Three Autonomies Movement (TAM), an umbrella organisation set up in 1950 after Mao's takeover and the expulsion of foreign missionaries and local Church leaders.

Officially, there are 10 million Protestants in China within TAM, but the number of underground Protestants in unregistered house churches is estimated to be more than 50 million. 

Last year the government arrested 1,958 clergymen and worshippers.

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