02/25/2004, 00.00
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Two Christians formally charged with 'revealing state secrets'

Beijing (AsiaNews/AFP) - The mainland has formally charged two Protestant Christian leaders with "revealing state secrets" to a foreign organisation, which in grave cases could lead to life in jail, the wife of one of them said on Wednesday.

News of the charges against Liu Fenggang and Xu Yonghai, both prominent members of Beijing's underground Evangelical church, emerged more than three months after they were put in custody.

Xu's wife, Li Shanna, learned of the charge after calling the local prosecutor's office and has already hired a lawyer for him, she said.

"What's the definition of state secret? What's the illegal foreign organisation?" she asked.

The same charge has been levelled against Liu, she said.

Two months ago AsiaNews published Li Shanna's appeal to Christians all over the world.

Liu was arrested in October in east China's scenic Hangzhou city, where he had gone to learn about the razing of at least 11 large churches since late July.

According to reports, the demolitions were part of a campaign to clean up "illegal religious activities."

Xu, who belonged to the same underground "family" church as Liu Fenggang, was detained a few weeks later.

Underground or family churches are those not registered with the government, which restricts the number of legal churches and requires registered churches to come under heavy government supervision.

The government says China has 15 million Protestants and five million Catholics in official churches.

Unofficial figures put up to 80 millions the number of underground Protestants and to 10 millions the number of Catholics who worship in 'underground' or 'family' churches, which refuse to submit to government regulation.


* Photo: Xu Yonghai and his wife Li Shanna seating on the debris of a destroyed house church
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