China releases jailed Protestant Bible publisher

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BEIJING, Sep 17 (Reuters) China has released a Protestant minister jailed for three years for illegally printing Bibles and other Christian publications, a Christian advocacy group said.

In atheist China, printing of Bibles and other religious publications requires state approval. Bibles cannot be openly bought at bookshops in a country long criticised for intolerance of religion.

Cai Zhuohua, detained in 2004 and sentenced by a Beijing court in 2005 to three years in jail on charges of ''illegal business practices'', was released on September 10, US-based China Aid Association (CAA) said in a statement.

Cai had returned home and was described as ''in good spirits'', CAA said.

China has about 40 million active Christians, with their numbers evenly divided between state-run and underground churches, according to expert estimates.

China's stability-obsessed government frowns on unsanctioned religious gatherings and regularly detains priests and seminarians.

In March, the Protestant vice principal of a Chinese Communist Party training school in Baoding, a city in Hebi province eighbouring Beijing, was expelled from the Party and demoted for organising a Bible study session.

REUTERS SKB VC1710

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