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Christian Face Long Sentences in Secret Trial

March 16, 2004

Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that house church leaders Liu Fenggang, Xu Yonghai and Zhang Shengqi were tried in secret on the morning of March 16 at the Intermediate People’s Court of Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province.

Originally charged with “inciting the gathering of state secrets,” the three Christians were brought to trial on amended charges of “providing intelligence to organizations outside of China,” for which they could each be sentenced to imprisonment for 10 years to life.

When Xu Yonghai’s wife, Li Shanna heard of the trial date, she prepared to travel from her home in Beijing to Hangzhou to attend the trial, only to be told by police that due to upgraded security measures relating to the National People’s Congress session, she would not be allowed to leave her home. When Li Shanna threatened “serious consequences,” the police relented and allowed her to travel to Hangzhou under escort by two police officers and the head of nursing at the hospital where she works. Once Li Shanna arrived in Hangzhou she learned that she would not be granted admittance to the court.

Likewise, defendant Zhang Shengqi’s mother Li Mingzhi, and his girlfriend, Ye Jifei, arrived at the Intermediate People’s Court on the morning of March 16, and insisted on being admitted in spite of threats from attending police officers. Police finally forced the women into a police vehicle and loaded them onto a train for Shandong.

Although family members were not allowed any information about the court proceedings, it is believed that the trial of the three men has not yet concluded, and the verdict and sentences have yet to be announced.

The arrest of Liu Fenggang and the others stemmed from a report Liu carried out on the suppression of Christians in Hangzhou’s Xiaoshan District last July, 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 released his report to organizations overseas. Xu Yonghai assisted Liu by printing the report, and Zhang Shengqi helped disseminate it through the Internet.

When Liu Fenggang returned to Hangzhou in October to carry out further research, he was detained on October 13 by Public Security officers from Xiaoshan District. Eight police officers searched Liu’s home on October 15 and confiscated a number objects, including a computer belonging to Xu Yonghai. Hangzhou police detained Xu Yonghai and Li Shanna on November 9, releasing Li six hours later. On November 26 police from Xiaoshan District arrested Zhang Shenqi in the home of his girlfriend.

Liu Fenggang has been subjected to constant persecution and detention for his religious beliefs in recent years. At one point he was sentenced to three years of Reeducation Through Labor (RTL). He began to suffer from heart disease in early 2003, and has had to remain under medication ever since.

Xu Yonghai, a doctor at a Beijing hospital, has been active in Christian youth groups. Because of his religious beliefs he at one point spent three years in a Reform Through Labor (laogai) camp, and has been subjected to continual persecution and harassment.

Zhang Shengqi, aged 24, is active in the underground church, and has used his technical skills to raise awareness of religious persecution through the Internet.

“By conducting this trial in secret, the Chinese government acknowledges that its persecution of these Christians is a shameful act that cannot be exposed to the light of day,” said HRIC president Liu Qing. “While the court has not yet released its verdict against these three men, the Chinese government has effectively delivered its own verdict against the sincerity and effectiveness of its plans to acknowledge human rights in China’s constitution. While the National People’s Congress discusses adding that brief sentence to the constitution, three innocent men contemplate much longer sentences for activities that no free and democratic country in the world considers a crime.”