Langzhong (AsiaNews) Sichuan authorities sentenced four underground Protestant leaders to a two-year term of "re-education through labour" in a labour camp for demanding the release of 14 worshippers who had been arrested without reason, this according to the China Aid Association (CAA), a US-based NGO fighting for religious freedom in China.
The ruling was made public last Thursday, a month after their arrest in the south-western region of Langzhong province.
The four menLi Ming, Wang Yuan, Li Mingbo and Jin Jirongbelong to the Chinese House Church Alliance, which groups non-government-sanctioned churches from across the country.
They were seized as they appealed to officers for the release of 14 congregants during a raid against a house church.
An officer at Langzhong police headquarters said he wasn't authorised to release any information about the case and refused to give his name.
Chinese law allows police to impose sentences of up to three years in Laogai (re-education through labour) camps without trial, a system ostensibly intended to convert minor criminals into upstanding citizens, but in fact used to undermine the resistance of religious and political dissidents.
Beijing has restricted Protestant religious activities to the Three Autonomies Movement (TAM), an umbrella organisation set up in 1950 after Mao's takeover and the expulsion of foreign missionaries and local Church leaders.
Officially, there are 10 million Protestants in China within TAM, but the number of underground Protestants in unregistered house churches is estimated to be more than 50 million.
Last year the government arrested 1,958 clergymen and worshippers.
The ecumenical delegation will be in the country from January 7 to 16. Meetings scheduled with the authorities of the Religious Affairs Office and with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement; preaching in the oldest Protestant churches in Beijing; visits to Shanghai and Xian. But unofficial Christians (80 million) are more numerous than the official ones (20 million) and criticize the Movement’s subjection to the Party.
Zhang Rongliang, a "patriarch" in China's house churches, is convicted for "attaining a passport through cheating" and "illegal border crossing". His health is reason for great concern.
The place of worship was built with the contribution of about 60 thousand faithful and had cost 7 million yuan. The demolition took place using dynamite and bulldozers. Unofficial and official churches suffer the same fate.