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Death Penalty Information

Monday, December 18, 2006

China: 3 executions in China leave others wary
3 executions in China leave others wary

The Chinese government executed 3 house church leaders in November on
murder convictions in what the leaders of 2 Christian organizations
ministering in China describe as part of a vicious government campaign to
eliminate one of the countrys house church groups.
Despite evidence that the defendants from the Three Grades of Servants
movement had been severely tortured into confessing, the Chinese
government secretly executed the groups founder Xu Shuangfu along with Li
Maoxing and Wang Jun in late November for the murders of leaders of
Eastern Lightning, widely regarded as a violent Chinese cult.
"Chinese government officials know the West will not tolerate such blatant
religious persecution," said Paul Hattaway of Asia Harvest. "But if they
manage to pass it all off as a domestic criminal matter, the West is
largely silenced.
"In the past the Chinese have even cleverly defended such crackdowns by
asking, If America is able to prosecute the Branch Davidians, and Japan
the cult that let off sarin gas in the Tokyo subway, then why can't we
also deal with dangerous cults in our country?'"
The government's persecution against Three Grades, which has been ongoing
for several years, has included the imprisonment of hundreds of members,
according to other house church pastors, and the deaths of at least 15
people. Along with the 3 men executed, 3 other leaders were given two-year
suspended death sentences and 11 were sent to prison for sentences of 3 to
15 years. The 3 men had been convicted of murder earlier this year in
Shuangyashan City in China's Heilongjiang Province. Their appeal was heard
in October and the verdicts were upheld.
Defense attorneys contended that no direct evidence linked the men to the
crimes other than the confessions the men and other church members made
after being tortured. Chinese law prohibits the use of confessions
obtained through torture.
"The defense lawyers have clear evidence that those 3 were tortured," said
Bob Fu, president of China Aid Association. "During the trial, they saw
the scars and wounds on [the defendants] bodies."
According to news reports, as many as 20 Eastern Lightning leaders were
killed in 2002 as a result of clashes with Three Grades of Servants.
Eastern Lightning has been accused of using kidnappings, violence and
seduction of pastors in an effort to take members from other groups. Fu
called Eastern Lightning "a mafia group with Christian uniforms."
In April 2004, Xu was kidnapped and relatives received a demand that a
ransom of more than $350,000 be paid. Later, it was learned that Xu was
under arrest by the government. About 90 other leaders of his group also
were arrested during this time.
During his imprisonment, Xu, who was believed to be in his 60s, and most
of the others arrested were subjected to severe torture. Xu's ordeal
included being shocked with electrical devices, hung by his wrist for
hours at a time and sleep and food deprivation, according to his lawyer.
He finally confessed, according to his defense lawyer, because the torture
was so severe "that he would rather die than live in such a dreadful
According to the religious rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide,
Xus daughter said her father revoked the confession immediately after
interrogation records were read in court and stated that it was signed
under severe torture.
Lawyers and relatives were not informed of the executions until after the
bodies of the three men had been cremated. Fu believes the bodies of the 3
men were cremated by the government to eliminate physical evidence of the
The appeal process and executions were completed about a month before the
Jan. 1 enactment of a new law that gives the Supreme Peoples Court sole
authority to sentence people to death.
Fu said he believes Three Grades of Servants had been targeted by the
government because it has been so successful. With as many as 500,000
members, the group is aggressive in church planting and evangelism, well
financed by members and well organized, Fu said.
The group has been labeled a cult by the government, but Fu and Hattaway
believe that label is unwarranted partly because it is difficult to know
the groups beliefs and practices because of the secrecy many Chinese house
churches require to protect themselves from the government.
Fu said he has never read anything by the group that contradicts essential
Christian doctrine, but he does have concerns about their practices, which
reportedly include corporal punishment for church discipline.
"Given the evidence that I have so far, I still think their main doctrines
are orthodox, but I dont have sufficient knowledge to know more about
accusations, especially regarding their practices," Fu said.
Regardless of whether the group is a cult, other house church leaders are
concerned that the Chinese government disregarded its own laws to convict
the men and will do the same to other house churches.
The governments strategy, Hattaway said, is to label a group an "evil
cult," usually by the China Christian Three Self Patriotic Movement, one
of two government-sanctioned Protestant groups in China. An article
usually comes out in the Three Self magazine Tianfeng listing a group's
crimes and heretical beliefs and practices. The government then arrests,
interrogates, prosecutes and even executes members of the group
"The worst part of the process is that so many Christians believe what
they read and do not question the validity of the information," Hattaway
said. "This is a very dangerous thing to do.
"[The Chinese government] is conducting a similar attack on the South
China Church at the moment, with as many as 700 of their members being
arrested and prosecuted for belonging to an 'evil cult,'" Hattaway said.
He added that the Born Again house church movement suffered a similar fate
and several other main house church movements in China are on the
government's cult list.
"Any house church now will likely be called 'evil cults' if they refuse to
register with the Chinese government," Fu said, "and they will face severe
persecution like this. No church should feel they will be exempted."
Said Hattaway, "Some of the house church leaders I know have told me they
are deeply concerned that a similar fate awaits them.
"If their group is one of those placed on the list of 'evil cults' they
know it is a matter of time before they are also targeted for systematic
destruction," Hattaway added.
Fu called on Christians worldwide to find out what's really going on in
China and not rely only on news reports. When they know of specific cases,
he asks that they pray.
"We ask our American brothers and sisters to take more action," Fu said.
"Write to President Bush and other elected officials to take specific
action against the persecution and to urge the Chinese government to obey
its own constitution and its own laws."
Members in the house church movement in China also need to learn from what
happened to the Three Grades of Servants and realize that the government
will use any means to destroy a group, Fu said.
"Church members should be careful before the Lord, before the people and
before the government," Fu said. "If there are any unbiblical practices,
even among church members, it will be used by the government to damage the
whole church."
If a church member is even suspected of a crime, "the governments real
motivation is not to seek justice," Fu said, "but to destroy the house
church group."
(source: BP News)
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