09/22/2010, 00.00
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Xuchang: two Christians appeal laogai sentence

Two members of a house church were imprisoned after they refused to pay a “fine” following their arrest. Family and supporters are prevented from entering the courtroom during their appeal trial. Their lawyer says they should not be convicted for being members of an “evil cult”; doing so is an abuse of power.

Xuchang (AsiaNews) – The appeal process for two members of an underground Protestant  house church began in Xuchang (Henan) today, amid tight security. They had originally been sentenced to a forced labour camp for their beliefs. Relatives and supporters of Gao Jianli and Liu Yunhua complained they were not allowed to enter the courtroom.

Rev Zhang Mingxuan, head of the China Association of House Churches, said he was detained by police outside the Intermediate People's Court in Xuchang city after he took photos of police with his mobile phone. “I was there watching with our brothers and sisters, and plainclothes police from Shangqiu and Xuchang threatened us and stopped us from taking photographs with our cell phones,” he said. One agent “told me that if I took a photo of him, he would call for me to be detained and I wouldn't be allowed inside to hear the trial.”

Gao Jianli and Liu Yunhua were first detained in March for 15 days alongside other members of their congregation for refusing to pay "fines" to police officers who raided their group.

They were handed a one-year sentence of "re-education through labour" on 25 March, but promptly appealed, forcing the process into open court.

Beijing-based rights lawyer Yang Huiwen, who represents Gao and Liu, said that Zhang’s detention and the refusal to give passes to visitors was against the law.

Yang noted that the key points of his appeal case were centred around the lack of due process, on the failure to uphold correct procedures, and on the lack of sufficient evidence to send Liu and Gao for a year's "re-education through labour."

“Thirdly, we argued that it was inappropriate to style a Protestant church as an 'evil cult,'" he said, referring to a term usually reserved for the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, and based on secret guidelines that are internal to the police force and carry no academic or legal weight.

“Such criteria cannot therefore be used as a basis for punishment,” Yang said. “In doing so, the authorities have exceeded the limits of [their] executive power.”

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