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Monday, 28 January, 2002, 09:52 GMT
China jails Hong Kong bible smuggler
Li Guangqiang
Li Guangqiang originally faced the death penalty
A Hong Kong businessman accused of smuggling thousands of bibles into China has been sentenced to two years in prison.

When he was arrested last year, Li Guangqiang was accused of spreading "an evil cult" - a crime that can carry the death penalty in China.

But earlier this month, the charges against him were suddenly downgraded to charges of illegal trading.

A BBC correspondent in Beijing says the reason for the relatively light sentence is because US President George Bush had expressed concerns over the case.

With President Bush's trip to China only three weeks away, our correspondent says Beijing is keen to counter allegations that it still engages in religious repression, particularly against China's Christian minority.

A Hong-Kong based human rights group said Li, 38, was arrested last May as he delivered 16,000 bibles to a banned evangelical group in south-eastern China.

He was sentenced on Monday by a court in Fuqing in southern China's Fujian province. Two men accused of helping him were jailed for three years.

Christian group

News of the sentence had earlier been released by human rights activists, but the court itself was refusing to comment.

China earlier this month rejected US concerns over the case, saying that no other country should interfere with China's judicial independence.

The US State Department had called on Beijing to meet the standards on freedom of religious expression laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Li was delivering to the bibles to a group called the Shouters. It is one of the fastest-growing underground religious organisations in China and is believed to have around 500,000 followers.

They require their followers to shout out their devotion. In 1995 the organisation was banned as an "aberrant religious organisation".

See also:

08 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
China rejects bible arrest concerns
21 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
China expels Western 'cult' members
31 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Falun Gong women die in detention
19 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Heavy sentences for Falun Gong members
17 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
China jails four for 'suicide protest'
22 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Falun Gong protest quashed
14 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese 'cult busters' set up
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