Persecution Watchdog Urges China to Overturn Ambiguous Death Penalties

Three separate death sentences have been issued to Christian leaders in China, Christian Solidarity Worldwide has reported. In addition to the death sentences, another prominent house church leader has been given a seven and a half year sentence and two other church leaders have been detained by the authorities in China, in what appears to be a step up in persecution by the Chinese authorities.

|TOP|CSW has been campaigning for the release of Pastor Xu Shuangfu and Pastor Zhang Rongliang since their independent arrests in 2004.

Pastor Xu was one of three pastors sentenced to death by the Intermediate People's Court of Shuangyashan City, Heilongjiang Province. He is the leader of the Three Grades of Servants group which has over half a million members. He first disappeared in April 2004, and has remained in detention since that time, tells CSW.

Xu (also known as Xu Wenku and Xu Shengguang) and sixteen other leaders of the Three Grades of Servants were accused of murder and of defrauding their own congregation of millions of yuan. Evidence revealed in court showed that confessions had been obtained through severe torture.

According to CSW, Xu described how he was hung in the air for five hours and suffered sleep deprivation for five days and nights. In addition, he explained how the interrogators tied his fingers, toes and genitals with wire and then connected the wire to an electrical supply.

|AD|In a separate case, Pastor Zhang Rongliang was sentenced to seven and a half years imprisonment last week. Pastor Zhang is the leader of China for Christ Church, which is estimated by some to have around 10 million members.

According to Compass Direct, Zhang was charged with falsifying a passport, obtaining passports under false pretences and illegal border crossing.

At the hearing, he denied that he had illegally gained passports for three of his co-workers, and defended his own right to a passport as a Chinese citizen. After a two-hour hearing on 6 April 2006, his case was referred to Zhengzhou City Intermediate People's Court to seek legal advice on the grounds of “insufficient evidence and ambiguous facts.”

Meanwhile, The Cardinal Kung Foundation reports that Bishop Jia Zhiguo, the unofficial Catholic bishop of Zhengding in Hebei Province, was again arrested despite still recovering from an operation in early June. This is the ninth time the 72-year-old bishop is known to have been arrested since 2004.

In addition, CSW report that a 46 year-old Pastor Wang Shixiu was arrested last week as she was shopping in No. 4 Village, Hongshan Town, Langzhong City, Sichuan Province.

CSW Chief Executive, Mervyn Thomas, said: “We are deeply troubled by the verdicts handed down to the leaders of Three Grades of Servants and Pastor Zhang, particularly when they are based on such dubious evidence. We urge the Chinese judicial system to immediately review these cases.”