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South China Church Leaders Evade Execution
Leaders of the South China Church have had their sentences reduced by the same court that tried them the first time after a retrial was ordered by the Hubei Province Supreme Court.
Four of the church leaders were declared innocent and released immediately. Three others facing execution had their verdicts reduced to prison sentences. Gong Shengliang, founder and head of the SCC, now faces live imprisonment. Journalist Li Ying, the SCC's second-in-command and the publisher of an underground church magazine, was sentenced to 15 years in prison, along with Bang Kun Gong.
During the retrial, the court dropped all "evil cult" charges against the South China Church leaders. One judge told members of Pastor Gong's family privately that he should be released.
The retrial comes as Chinese President Jiang Zemin prepares to visit the United States later this month. He will be meeting with President Bush and other US leaders.
According to Voice of the Martyrs, the prisoners are forbidden to have Bibles, and are forbidden to pray out loud in their cells. Bibles brought by family members were confiscated by authorities, who ordered other inmates to interrupt their prayers and to report any prayers to prison officers. Some of the SCC leaders also were severely beaten in prison.
Some practices of the SCC may be questionable, some observers say, but they do not deserve the treatment they have received. Christian Aid is helping to establish Bible training schools in China so that house church leaders can be trained in sound doctrine and practice.