By BosNewsLife News Center
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife) -- Five house church leaders were free Saturday, May 19, following their release from prison in China's Xinjiang province amid "intensive diplomacy and media pressure", human rights investigators said.
Religious rights group China Aid Association said "Ms. Xinglan Zhao, Ms. Xiurong Huang, Pastor Tianlu Yang, 41, Pastor Chaoyi Wang, 41, [and] Ms. Cuiling Li, 48," were released "ten days earlier than the official criminal detention intended."
It was not immediately clear when, and if, a sixth reportedly detained pastor, Sijun He, had been freed from jail. The pastors, who were released on May 17 and May 18, were part of 30 key house church leaders who were arrested last month during a police raid, fellow elievers said.
There had been international concern that the pastors could face up to three years "re-education through labor" as they were previously detained for one month for organizing house church activities.
Four American missionaries from Michigan and their interpreter were released earlier after negotiations between US and Chinese officials, BosNewsLife learned.
Those released this week were each forced to pay 2000 Yuan ($250) to prison authorities or their release, CAA said. Two male church leaders were allegedly tortured while in etention "with some visible wounds on their legs and arms," according to CAA investigators.
They were reportedly in good spirits and joyful. "We are not cults but true followers of Jesus. Compared to what Jesus has to suffer for us, our (suffering) is too light to mention," one male pastor who was apparently mistreated said in a statement distributed by CAA. The pastor, who was not identified, was "beaten repeatedly" each time when he was interrogated, CAA said.
Their troubles began April 19 when American Christians met the church leaders in the city of Akesu in Xinjiang province. Security forces soon broke up the meeting, detaining everyone involved, Christians said.
"Chinese house church believers are willing to contribute their gift and love to help China build a true civil society" said CAA President Bob Fu, a former house church pastor. "We hope the spirit of the rule of law and religious freedom will prevail in Xinjiang," he added.
Chinese officials have not commented on the latest developments. However China's government as denied involvement in human rights abuses. Authorities say Christians are free to worship in official churches, but local believers and advocacy groups say most of China's up to 150 million believers prefer to worship outside Communist control in house churches. (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from China).
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