05/31/2004, 00.00
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Release of activist and preacher precede fifteenth anniversary of Tiananmen Square

Government continues tight control to prevent "unanticipated events" 

Beijing (AsiaNews/agencies) - A political activist and preacher of an independent Church have been released from prison as the June 4th anniversary marking 15 years of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations approaches.

Political activist Li Hai, 50, was released from prison yesterday May 30th.  He was sentenced in 1996 for 'divulging state secrets' after compiling lists of people imprisoned in the wave of arrests that followed the bloody crackdown on demonstrators. At the time of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Mr. Li was a graduate philosophy student at Peking University, and a strong advocate of the democracy movement. According to Human Rights in China, a New York based group, he spent 18 months in prison after the protests. After his release, he helped other political prisoners, contacting their families and speaking to the international community about their plight. For this he was arrested in 1995 and sentenced to 9 years in prison, subjected to severe mental and physical abuse. Most of his sentence was spent in solitary confinement or under close monitoring.

Though Li has been released, the central government appears to be tightening its watch on political activists and the relatives of those killed in the crackdown in 1989, by detaining them at home and tapping their phones.  Police warned Li's mother, Gong Liwen, to ensure that her son's release from prison did not spark any "unanticipated events".

Authorities in the eastern province of Anhui released 60-year old Zhao Wenquan, a preacher of China's independent church movement last week.  Monitoring groups reported that Zhao was detained May 9th in Hegoi, Anhui, after 4,000 villagers attended a religious festival organized by his independent Christian church to mark the end of the spring harvest. He was released after three weeks, and charges of 'disturbing the social order' and 'organizing illegal religious activities' were dropped, said the China Aid Association, based in Glendale, Pennsylvania.

Zhao has been active in the unofficial church movement for more than 30 years. His is one of many evangelical Christian groups that are persecuted for rejecting government authority. China claims 14 million Christians in their official churches, but monitoring groups claim twice as many belong to independent churches. Over the past year scores of church leaders have been arrested, and church meeting places demolished as a part of a crackdown on churches that refuse to accept the authority of official Communist Party-controlled Christian organizations.


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