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Thursday, 10 October, 2002, 09:46 GMT 10:46 UK
Chinese Christian leader jailed
A Chinese woman prays at the government-approved Nantang Catholic Cathedral in Beijing
China approves a number of Christian churches
The leader of a banned Chinese Christian group whose death sentence was overturned, has been sentenced to life in prison, according to activists.

Gong Shengliang, initially convicted on cult charges, was found guilty of rape and battery in a second trial, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.

Two other sect leaders were sentenced to life for battery, and two others were given 15-year sentences on the same charges.

The second trial came after a Chinese court made the rare move of overturning the initial death sentences due to lack of evidence.

It also comes ahead of Chinese President Jiang Zemin's visit to US President George Bush's Texas ranch later this month.

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 "evil cults", and in July 1999 it banned the Falun Gong spiritual movement.

'Intimidation'

The five Christians were arrested last year and later convicted of using an "evil 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
The cult charges were dropped for the second trial, which took place at a court in Jingmen city, in central Hubei province.

Gong Shengliang set up the South China Church in 1991 and it now 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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