BEIJING, Feb. 27–(Kyodo)- Seventeen leaders from a Chinese Christian group will go on trial Tuesday for alleged involvement in the murder of 20 members of a rival sect and fraud, a Christian group based in the United States said Monday.
At least four defendants, members of the religious sect Three Grades of Servants, are expected to be sentenced to death by an intermediate court in Shuangyashan, a city in northeastern Heilongjiang Province, the China Aid Association quoted government sources as saying.
The defendants, including sect leader and longtime underground church organizer Xu Wenku, are accused of involvement in the murder of members of the Eastern Lightning sect in retaliation for its meddling in Xu’s group, the Texas-based association of Chinese-American Christians said in a statement.
The defendants are also accused of 32 million yuan ($3.98 million) in fraud.
Xu rejects the charges, said the China Aid Association, an advocate for underground Chinese churches.
Xu and most other suspects in this case were tortured “very extensively” by investigators, and one of them died under interrogation in 2004, the association said.
In 2004 and 2005, other leaders from Xu’s group were sentenced to death, it said.
“The trial of these religious leaders in China this week is significant,” the group said. “This trial may demonstrate the degree to which the Chinese government may be willing to ignore or suspend constitutional safeguards to destroy particular religious groups.”
Courthouse staff did not answer phone calls Monday.