BEIJING (AP) — A leader of China’s underground Protestant church has been released from prison after serving a three-year sentence for distributing Bibles and other religious literature without a business license, an overseas monitoring group said Sunday.
Pastor Cai Zhuohua returned to his Beijing home on Sept. 10 in good physical and mental condition, the China Aid Association said in a statement.
The association, based in Midland, Texas, said Cai had been told not to speak about his prison experience and to report to a local police station once a month.
China’s sole legal government-controlled church maintains a monopoly on the printing and distribution of religious literature and other church materials.
Cai had been sentenced for “illegal business practices” after police searched a warehouse he managed and found more than 200,000 pieces of Christian literature, including Bibles. His lawyers said he gave away the religious materials for free and denied he was running a business.
Cai had been detained about 14 months before he was convicted in November 2005. His pretrial detention appeared to have been counted toward his sentence.
The association said Cai had been deprived of religious reading material in prison, where he had been forced to work for 10 to 12 hours each day.
China’s officially atheistic Communist government denies persecuting religious believers, but says all religious groups must follow the law and place love of nation above all else.
The government only allows worship in churches run by state-monitored religious associations, although millions of Christians risk harassment or worse by gathering in independent church groups, often run out of private homes.