By BosNewsLife News Center
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife) — Most, if not all, eight prominent house church Christians in China's eastern Zhejiang province prepared to spend Christmas behind bars Saturday, December 23, after they were sentenced to prison sentences of up to 3.5 years, fellow believers said.
The People's Court of Xiaoshan District in the provincial capital Hangzhou city sentenced the believers late Friday, December 22 after an "almost 12-hour marathon pre-Christmas trial," said religious rights group China Aid Association (CAA).
They were accused of inciting violent resistance to the law after they protested the government's destruction of a church. The seven men and one woman from Zhejiang were arrested after about 3,000 Christians in Xiaoshan, a prospering commercial suburb of the provincial capital Hangzhou, demonstrated against the demolition of their mega-church in July.
Xiaoshan is home to tens of thousands of Protestant Christians, many of them traders or farmers wary of state control, church observers said. In recent years, they have apparently struggled with the government over approval to build their own churches.
75-year-old Church Elder Shen Chengyi fell on the ground in the court and lost his consciousness during the trial where his daughter, Pastor Shen Zhuke, received 3.5 years imprisonment, CAA said. He was rushed to hospital and his condition was
not immediately clear Saturday, December 23.
Pastor Wang Weiliang received three years, "brother Feng Guangliang, two years and brother Luo Bingliang, one year," in prison, CAA told BosNewsLife in a statement. The other four including Elder Shen Chengyi, "brother Ni Weimin, brother Shen Jianjian, and brother Guo Lijun" received suspended jail sentences from 1 to 3 years and "are likely to be released," the well-informed group added.
In a separate case, the Beijing Intermediate Court sentenced well-known Christian human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng to a three year suspended prison sentence for "subversion". Gao, 42, was given a five-year reprieve, which means he does not have to serve his sentence unless he commits "another crime" over the next five years. Chinese officials said.
Gao was also deprived of his political rights for one year, which would prevent him from working in the government, publishing books or speaking to reporters. He could be kept placed under house arrest or police surveillance, observers said.
Gao was accused of posting nine "seditious articles", including one entitled "The Regime Has Never Stopped Killing People", on overseas Web sites such as Epochtimes.com and SecretChina.com, Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency quoted the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court as saying.
"In the articles, Gao defamed and made rumors about China's current government and social system, conspiring to topple the regime," the court said. He also allegedly "slandered" the government in 10 interviews with overseas media, including the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia. It was unclear if Gao would appeal. China secretly tried Gao this month on a charge of inciting subversion of state power, drawing condemnation from dissidents and Christian rights groups.
Earlier this year the Chinese authorities handed out harsher sentences to others suspected over "subversion" activities. Zhao Yan, a Chinese researcher for the New York Times news paper in Beijing, was sentenced to three years in prison "for fraud", although a more serious charge of providing state secrets to foreigners was dropped, news reports said.
In December, a Beijing court also sentenced Sociologist Lu Jianhua to 20-years in hail for allegedly leaking state secrets. "Though today's sentences against the faithful are less heavy than expected because of international pressure, [they] are not acceptable," said CAA President Bob Fu, a former house church leader. "The international community should urge the Chinese government to release those innocent House Church believers immediately," he stressed.
There are about 80-million Christians in China and that number is rapidly growing, church observers claim, despite apparent opposition from Communist authorities. (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from China).
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