AFP-China sentences underground pastor to 7.5 years in prison

China Aid Association
China sentences underground pastor to 7.5 years in prison
Sat Jul 8, 4:17 AM ET

China has sentenced the head of an underground church group with several million members to seven and a half years in prison, a US-based rights group says.
A court in central China’s Henan province sentenced Zhang Rongliang, head of the China for Christ house church, formely known as Fangcheng, on June 29, the rights group said.
He was sentenced on charges of “attaining a passport through cheating” and “illegal border crossing,” said Bob Fu, president of the Texas-based China Aid Association.
“Zhang had used a fake passport to travel to the United States and Australia to attend conferences because the government would not issue a passport to him,” Fu told AFP by telephone.
The Chinese government regularly denies passports to leaders of house churches, whose congregations are not registered and do not welcome government monitoring.
The Zhongmu City People’s Court, which sentenced Zhang, did not reveal the verdict until Tuesday, Fu said.
Zhang had previously been arrested several times and has served a total of 12 years in prison for organizing church activities for his group.
His sentencing came more than a year and a half after his last arrest in December 1, 2004.
“His family plans to appeal,” Fu said, but chances of the court accepting the appeal is slim.
The Fangcheng group, which has branches in many parts of China, was one of the religious groups targetted by the government during its “anti-cult” movement launched after it outlawed the meditation-based Falungong spiritual movement in 1999.
Following Zhang’s arrest, authorities confiscated Christian DVDs and other material from his house that allegedly linked him to Chirstians overseas, said the US-based Christian group Compass Direct, whose statement Fu released in an email.
Zhang’s sentencing followed several court hearings in April.
It came despite the Zhongmu City People’s Court acknowledging that “there was insufficient evidence and ambiguous facts,” and submitting the case to the Zhengzhou City Intermediate People’s Court in the provincial capital for legal advice, Compass Direct said.
Zhang has been hospitalized for part of his time in custody due to health problems. He suffers from chronic diseases, including high blood pressure and severe diabetes, and under Chinese law qualifies to ask for medical parole.
Copyright © 2006 Agence France Presse.

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