China tries church leaders for telling foreigners of Christian crackdown

BEIJING, (AFP) – China has tried three underground church leaders in secret for exposing a crackdown against Christians just days after it passed a constitutional amendment to protect human rights.

Liu Fenggang, Xu Yonghai and Zhang Shengqi were tried on Tuesday at the Intermediate Peoples Court of Hangzhou in eastern Zhejiang province, Xu’s wife Li Shanna and New York-based Human Rights in China (HRIC) said.

Originally charged with “inciting the gathering of state secrets,” the three Christians were brought to trial on amended charges of “providing intelligence to organizations outside of China.”

The men had told overseas groups of the suppression of Christians in Hangzhou city, where more than a dozen churches in houses were destroyed and at least 300 Christians were arrested, with some physically abused.

The court has not announced a verdict but the men face imprisonment for 10 years to life, HRIC said.

“My husband is not guilty,” Li told AFP by telephone as she rode the train back to her home in Beijing after travelling to Hangzhou in hopes of attending the trial.

Li and family members of the other two defendants were kept out of the closed-door hearing.

Hangzhou court officials refused to comment.

“This involves state security. We cannot speak to the reporters about this,” court employee Xu Minghui told AFP.

Police initially refused to allow Li to travel to Hangzhou, but later relented, allowing her go there under police escort.

The mother of defendant Zhang, Li Mingzhi, and his girlfriend, Ye Jifei, arrived at the court Tuesday but were forced by police into a vehicle and loaded onto a train back to their home in eastern Shandong province.

The trio’s arrest stemmed from a report Liu carried out on the suppression of Christians in Hangzhou’s Xiaoshan district last July.

After traveling to Hangzhou to learn more, Liu, a Beijinger, released his report to organizations overseas.

Xu assisted him by printing the report and Zhang helped disseminate it through the Internet.

When Liu returned to Hangzhou in October to carry out further research, he was detained on October 13 by police.

Hangzhou police detained Xu and his wife Li on November 9, releasing Li six hours later.

On November 26 they arrested Zhang.

The trial comes just days after China’s legislature approved a Communist Party decision to amend the state constitution to include mention about the protection of human rights for the first time.

China has called it a significant move, but Western countries have urged Beijing to implement its amendment, not just pass it.

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