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Tuesday, 8 October, 2002, 07:18 GMT 08:18 UK
Chinese Christians win re-trial
Military police officers patrol, 1 January 2002,Tiananmen Square, Beijing.
China has cracked down on groups it labels "cults"
Five Chinese Christians sentenced to death for involvement in an "evil cult" have had their sentences overturned and will be re-tried, according to activists.

The Hong Kong based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said the supreme court in the province of Hubei had ruled that the convictions last December were not based on enough evidence.

The rare move comes a few weeks before Chinese President Jiang Zemin is due to visit US President George Bush at his Texas ranch.

Mr Bush, on a visit to Beijing in February, called for China to embrace freedom of worship.

Religion is tightly controlled in China. Beijing has labelled at least 16 underground Christian churches as "evil cults" and in July 1999 banned the Falun Gong spiritual movement.

'Intimidation'

The five Christians were arrested last year and later convicted of using a "cult" to undermine the enforcement of the law.

Falun Gong practitioners stage a sit-in protest, Hong Kong, 1 October 2001
Falun Gong followers have received prison sentences
Gong Shengliang, along with Xu Fuming and Hu Yong, were sentenced to death for organising the banned South China Church.

Gong Bangchen and Li Ying, the founder's niece, were given death sentences with a two-year reprieve, according to the Information Centre.

The case is due to re-open on Wednesday, it said.

The South China Church was set up in 1991 and has 50,000 followers across 10 Chinese provinces, according to the Hong Kong group.

On Monday the US said "respect for religious freedom and freedom of conscience remained poor" in China.

"Members of some unregistered religious groups, including Protestant and Catholic groups, were subjected to increased restrictions, including, in some cases, intimidation, harassment and detention," the State Department said in an annual report.

See also:

24 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
24 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
09 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
10 Dec 01 | Country profiles
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