Christian leaders freed from the laogai, proof of their crimes lacking

China Aid Association
An historic sentence is released by the administrative committee for the laogai in the province of Hubei, which has overturned the sentence handed down by a lower committee and has freed four Christian leaders who were arrested while they were praying and accused of being involved in illegal organizations.
Wuhan (AsiaNews) – Thanks to an unprecedented legal victory, four unauthorized Christian leaders have been freed from the camp of “re-education through labour” to which they were sentenced for having attended a religious function at a private home.
The administrative committee for the laogai [editor’s note: the Chinese labour camps] in the province of Hubei has in fact declared as illegitimate the sentence, handed down by the Enshi committee. The Christian leaders have been helped in this battle by the China Aid Association (CAA), a non-governmental organization that works for the respect of religious freedom in China.
It all started in Wuhan on August 6, 2007, when the police in Hubei arrested 9 Christians (4 men and 5 women) who had gathered in one of their homes. On July 5, the administrative committee for the laogai in Enshi accused them of “engaging in organizing and making use of evil cult organization to undermine the enforcement of state laws”.
The sentence was “re-education through labour”, or forced labour in the government’s labour camps. Two of the women were instead sentenced to house arrest: one of them is seriously ill, while the other has an infant son. The others were beaten by the camp guards during their detention.
On October 9, the CAA contacted a lawyer in Beijing, Wu Chenglian, who prepared the appeal that was presented before the Hubei committee. After three months of deliberation, the committee overturned the sentence and declared: “after reviewing the applicants’ application for reconsideration and the answers and evidence submitted by the respondent, this committee believes that the decision of education through labour . . . is not based on clear facts and is not supported by sufficient evidence”. At the moment, however, the two women who were not taken to the labour camps remain under house arrest.
Beijing permits the practice of evangelical Christianity only within the Movement of the Three Autonomies (MTA), created in 1950 after Mao seized power, the foreign missionaries were expelled, and Chinese church leaders were imprisoned. Official statistics say that there are 10 million official Protestants in China, all united with the MTA.
The unauthorized Protestants, who gather in unregistered “domestic churches”, are estimated at over 50 million. Over the course of the last year, the government has arrested 1,958 of the pastors and faithful of the unofficial Protestant Churches.
According to a secret document from the Chinese communist party in Hubei, leaked to the West last November, a campaign is underway to “normalize” the underground Protestant Churches by offering them two options: either join the Movement of the Three Autonomies (the Protestant communities headed by the patriotic associations), or be suppressed.
The campaign is in clear opposition to UN guidelines on religious freedom, which ban the distinction between licit religious activities (controlled by the state) and activities that are illicit only because they are not controlled by the government.

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