A Chinese court on Friday sentenced three prominent house church leaders to up to three years in prison for leaking state secrets, a court official and overseas church activist said.
According to the China Aid Association, the court in the eastern city of Hangzhou found Liu Fenggang, Xu Yonghai, and Zhang Shengqi guilty of passing on information to an overseas magazine about a court case involving another member of the independent church . The member, Li Baozhi, had been sentenced to one-and-a-half years of ‘re-education through labor’ after she was accused as an “evil cult member.”
Liu—who was also found guilty of passing on information about the destruction of unofficial churches outside Hangzhou in a crackdown last year—received a three-year sentence, while Xu received two years and Zhang one year, the CAA reported.
According to the Associated Press, a judge at the Hangzhou court's No. 1 criminal division confirmed the three men had been sentenced, saying their cases were now closed. The judge, who identified himself only by his surname, Zhang, declined to give further details.
The cases against the men stem from their efforts to publicize the suppression of Christians in Hangzhou’s Xiaoshan District July 2003, in the course of which more than a dozen house churches were destroyed and at least 300 Christians were arrested, with some subjected to physical abuse.
After traveling to Hangzhou in July to learn more about the incident, Liu had released his report to overseas organizations. When Liu returned to Hangzhou in October to carry out further research, Public Security officers from Xiaoshan District detained him, searched his home, and confiscated a number of items, including a computer belonging to Xu Yonghai.
In November, authorities detained Xu, a psychiatrist, and Zhang, a writer. Xu and Zhang were active members of Liu’s house church.
According to sources, China stages such crackdowns to enforce its insistence that Christians worship only in government-controlled churches. Despite harassment, fines and the possibility of prison, millions of Protestants and Catholics continue to worship outside the Communist Party-controlled official Protestant church, in unauthorized assemblies, including private homes—often labeled as “house churches.”
Meanwhile, Chinese officials continually deny violating religious freedoms, saying detained activists are criminals who violated Chinese law and threatened national security.