China jails five underground church leaders

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Shanghai, Nov.27 (ANI): A Chinese court has sentenced five leaders of an underground Protestant church to jail terms of up to seven years. he sentences are some of the harshest in recent years against the members of so-called "house churches" - underground congregations that refuse to be sanctioned by the Communist party's Religious Affairs Bureau, The Telegraph reports.

The Linfen Fushan church in the northern province of Shanxi is thought to be one of China's largest house churches, with some 50,000 members, according to Boxun.com, a website used by activists.

Police raided a dormitory building where a morning service was being held in September, arresting the church's pastor, Wang Xiaoguang. His wife, Yang Rongli, was arrested the day after the raid while protesting her husband's detention to the local government offices in Taiyuan.

Another ten people were arrested over the following days, but it is not clear whether they are still in custody.

Mr Wang and his wife were given the maximum sentence of seven years in prison. The other three people arrested were given sentences of between three and four-and-a-half years.

The five were reportedly convicted of two charges: "illegal land occupation" and "assembling a crowd to disrupt public order." No other details were given.

There are an estimated 50 million to 130 million Christians in China, but the government requires all Protestants to worship in non-denominational Three-Self Patriotic Movement, while Catholics must meet in the Patriotic Association. (ANI)

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