Two leaders of unofficial church sentenced on cult charges in China

Two Chinese ministers of Protestant church were sentenced to one year in labor camp for using an "evil cult" to obstruct the law.

The two men were detained on June 15 along with four other church leaders during a worship service in eastern Shandong province, just south of Beijing, the China Aid Association reported.

They were charged with "using an evil cult to obstruct the law," the Midland, Texas-based group said.

No details were given of the charges, although China typically uses the vague anti-cult legislation to punish those worshipping outside the tightly controlled official Communist Party-recognized church.

The group said Zhang Geming and Sun Qingwen were sentenced on June 29 to "re-education through labor," an extrajudicial punishment under which authorities can sentence minor criminals or regime opponents to up to three years of labor without the need for a trial.

The Aid Association said the two were evangelical ministers from the neighboring province of Henan. Four Shandong ministers detained along with them were released after paying fines of 1,000 yuan (US$131; EUR96) each.

An officer answering phones at police headquarters in Cao county, where Zhang and Sun were detained, said he had no knowledge of their cases. Phones at the labor camp in Jining, where they were being held, rang unanswered.

Despite the risk of harassment, fines and imprisonment, millions of Chinese continue to worship in the unofficial groups, often called "house churches" because they meet in private homes.

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