China sentences five Christian leaders to jail for buying Christian devotionals

Five Christian leaders in China have been sentenced to up to seven years in jail last week for buying and selling Christian devotionals which were deemed as illegal.

(REUTERS / Thomas Peter)A man attends a service at the unofficial catholic church in Majhuang village, Hebei Province, China, December 11, 2016.

On Wednesday, a court in the province of Liaoning in China sentenced four women and one man to prison for the purchase and sale of "officially forbidden Christian devotional books." Pastor Li Dongzhe and Piao Shunnan were sentenced to seven years behind bars, Zhao Chunxia and Li Yuan were handed five-year jail sentences, while Shi Jinyan received a three-year sentence, China Aid details.

The five Christians were arrested in June last year. All of them are members of registered churches, and most of them are affiliated with a Korean ethnic minority group living in China.

In January, Radio Free Asia (RFA) ran a story of how Pastor Yang Hua, who leads the unregistered "house church" Huoshi Church in the province of Guizhou, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison over spying charges. The Protestant minister was first detained in December 2015 after police raided his church and home and seized computers and other items.

According to Pastor Yang's lawyers, local prosecutors tortured their client in jail. They have already sued certain officials in connection with the accusation.

For defense attorney Chen, the prison sentence handed to Pastor Yang was undeserved because he is innocent of the espionage charges slapped against him. He said the ruling against his client is a form of persecution.

"Even a day in jail is too much for an innocent person," Attorney Chen told RFA in an interview. "I have only one thing to say about this. This isn't a judgement: it's persecution."

Pastor Su Tianfu, another minister at Huoshi, said the ruling was outrageous because Pastor Yang reportedly had no way to reveal any of China's state secrets. Unfortunately, he said it is a "case of political interference" and there is not much they can do about it.