China House Church Leaders Sentenced to Prison

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Five house church leaders have been sent to labor camps after a Chinese court sentenced them to up to seven years in prison.

Yang Rongli and four other Protestant leaders were charged with illegal assembly and refusing to register their house churches with the government.

While Yang received the maximum sentence of seven years imprisonment, others were given sentences ranging from three to four-and-a-half years.

Human rights groups say the sentences are the harshest given in recent years.

"To punish an innocent house church leader with seven years' imprisonment is the most serious sentence since 2004, when the senior Henan house church leader Pastor Zhang Rongliang received a similar length," China Aid Association President Bob Fu said in a press statement.

"We strongly condemn these unjust sentences, which are based on trumped-up charges," he added.

Fu condemned the trial as a farce, saying the case was indicative of the erosion of religious freedom in China.

"The court's conduct throughout the trial clearly indicated the government had decided upon the verdict and prepared it in advance," Fu said.

"Government prosecutors showed over 1,000 pages of so-called 'evidence materials' related to this case, but the defense lawyers were only allowed to review about 50 pages before the trial," he said.

Currently China is home to approximately 50 million to 130 million Christians.

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