Five leaders of a Christian church group in Northern China were each sentenced on Nov. 25 to between three and seven years in prison.
The five were charged with “illegally occupying land” and “assembling to disrupt public order,” according to the NGO Chinese Human Rights Defenders. The sentence was handed down at a court in Linfen city, Shanxi Province. The defendants were not allowed to respond to the charges, CHRD said on its Web site.
Li Fanping, their lawyer, told AFP: “I was shocked at the seriousness of the punishment. This shows that the government is intent on using the law as a tool to attack the church.”
The leaders were arrested in mid-September after trying to stop their congregation buildings from being torn down. At that time the Deputy County Chief of Fushan County in Linfen City led 400 police and unidentified men at 3 a.m. to violently attack the people in the dormitories there, according to the CHRD Web site. Some were beaten unconscious and had to be taken to hospital, the report said.
Authorities are also reported to have brought tractors and excavators to destroy the building, a farm warehouse being used as a church.
That same day Yang Rongli, one of the Christian leaders, went with eight colleagues to Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi Province, to petition the attempted demolition. He was kidnapped en route by provincial public security officials and unlawfully imprisoned, CHRD said.
Since then at least 10 Christians in Linfen have been arrested, with some being later released, up until the sentencing on Nov. 25.
Yang Rongli was sentenced to seven years, Wang Xiaoguang three years, Yang Xuan three years, Cui Jiaxing four and a half years, and Zhang Huamei four years.