The China Aid Association (CAA) expressed outrage, Sunday, against the Feb. 28 trial of 17 religious leaders who now are facing a death sentence. The Texas-based organization has urged the international community to ensure that the proceedings are properly conducted and that evidence presented is credible.
According to prosecution documents, Three Grades of Servants leader, Xu Wenku (also known as Xu Shuangfu and Xu Shengguang), and 16 of his followers are under trial for the alleged murder of 20 leaders from the Eastern Lightning religious group. Government officials claimed that the leaders instigated the murders in retaliation for Eastern Lightning’s "penetration activities" within the Three Grades. In addition, Xu has been accused of being involved in an over 32 million Yuan ($4 million) financial scam. Xu has denied all charges, however.
Long regarded as a sect by various Christian groups, the Three Grades movement claims a membership of over a million.
China Aid maintains that though it does not support the activities and teachings of the defendants, it agrees that they have the right to a fair trial. This particular case, says the CAA, may set precedents for China’s attitude towards other religious groups.
"Though this group does not have any formal association with or accountability to the Chinese House Church movement, yet regardless [of] who they are, CAA believes it is essential that they are entitled to a fair trial, a trial that recognizes and protects all of their Constitutional rights," stated a memo released yesterday. "This trial may demonstrate the degree to which the Chinese government may be willing to ignore or suspend constitutional safeguards to destroy particular religious groups."
CAA president, Rev. Bob Fu, a former unregistered church leader from Beijing, said that the recent event represents a disturbing trend in the nation’s religious policy.
"…in the past few years, cases like South China Church and the sentence of Beijing House church pastor Cai Zhuohua showed that there has been a trend to criminalize any religious activities that is outside the religion embraced by the Chinese Communist Party," Rev. Fu said. "These criminal prosecutions have been carried out for the clear purpose of destroying the accused religious group or its leaders."
Rev. Fu, nonetheless, denounced the killings of the Eastern Lightning members, stating that "any of the basic teachings of authentic Christian faith are contrary to any actions like those listed in the charge."
According to the CAA, based on the accounts of inside sources, Xu and his followers were tortured into giving false confessions. April 2004, another Three Grades member Gu Xianggao was allegedly tortured to death during interrogation, after which government officials gave a substantial amount of money to his family in exchange for silence.
Xu is believed to be currently held at the Shuangyashan detention center in Heilongjiang Province.