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Thursday, 24 August, 2000, 06:56 GMT 07:56 UK
China arrests followers of banned church
Falun Gong members arrested
China has taken a tough line with outlawed religious groups
The Chinese authorities have arrested a large number of Christians for supporting an outlawed church, a Hong Kong-based human rights organisation has reported.

The organisation, the Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, said 130 members of the China Fang-Cheng Church were detained on Wednesday in Henan province.

Among those detained are three US passport holders, all of them Taiwanese-born, whom the organisation said were acting as missionaries for the church.

The Fang-Cheng Church, is one of more than a dozen Christian movements in China that are banned by the authorities and operate underground.

It claims more to have more than half a million followers.

State church

None of the sects are recognised because they refuse to join China's state-controlled church - affiliating instead with overseas Christian groups.

The Chinese authorities have denounced the church as a subversive cult, and regard the group in much the same way as the Falun Gong spiritual movement which has been outlawed.

Over the past year Falun Gong followers have been subjected to considerable harassment and more than 20 have died in custody.

Christians are allowed to worship in China, but only at state-sanctioned churches.

Correspondents say the unofficial churches tend to be more evangelistic and charismatic than the government-approved churches.

Last December, the Fang-Cheng's founder, Zhang Rong Liang, was sentenced to two years in a labour camp after being convicted of leading a cult.

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