Five underground church leaders in Shanxi have been given jail sentences on charges of “illegal land occupation” and “assembling a crowd to disrupt public order.” From Christopher Bodeen for the Associated Press:
A court in northern China has sentenced five leaders of an unauthorized Protestant church to prison terms of up to seven years on charges including illegal assembly, rights groups reported Thursday.
The sentences are among the harshest in recent years for members of so-called “house churches” — congregations that refuse to register and accept the authority of the government’s Religious Affairs Bureau.
Arrests stemmed from a Sept. 13 raid by police and hired security guards on sunrise services held in a dormitory building by the 50,000-member Linfen Fushan Church in Linfen, northern Shanxi province, rights groups and the advocacy Web site Boxun.com reported.
Those sentenced late Wednesday by the Linfen Intermediate Court included the church’s pastor Wang Xiaoguang and his wife Yang Rongli, who both received the maximum sentence. Yang was apparently targeted for her efforts to petition local authorities on Wang’s behalf, Boxun said. Others were given sentences of between three and four-and-a-half-years, it said.
Malcolm Moore also reports, for Telegraph:
Another ten people were arrested over the following days, but it is not clear whether they are still in custody.
[…] The China Aid Association, a US- based Christian rights group, said the sentences were the severest since Zhang Rongliang, a church leader from Zhengzhou in Henan, central China received seven-and-a-half years in 2006.
It added that lawyers for the five jailed church members had only been shown a partial set of the documents relating to their clients.
“We strongly condemn this unjust sentence based on trumped-up charges. This case clearly shows the seriously deteriorating situation of religious persecution in China,” said Bob Fu, the president of the association, in a statement.