The New York Times, Dec 31, 2001 pA4(L) col 06 (13 col in).
2 CHRISTIANS ORDERED TO DIE AS CHINA
ACTS AGAINST A SECT
Full Text COPYRIGHT 2001 The New York Times Company
Two leaders of a Chinese Christian sect were sentenced to death today, the
first time executions have been ordered under the country's 1999 anti-cult
Gong Shengliang, the founder of the unauthorized South China Church, was
ordered to die in Hubei Province in central China for crimes including
''hooliganism and rape,'' according to the Hong Kong-based Information Center
for Human Rights and Democracy. The sentence could not immediately be
verified, but reports from the center, which acts as a clearinghouse for
human-rights reports from across China, have proved accurate in the past.
Mr. Gong's niece, Li Ying, 36, another reported leader of the church, was also
sentenced to death but with a two-year reprieve, which normally results in
commutation to a life sentence if the person is cooperative in prison.
Mr. Gong, 46, founded the South China Church in 1991 as a splinter group from
another underground church, called the Total Scope Church, according to the
report from the human rights monitor. In April, the Ministry of Public
Security added the church, said to have 50,000 members, to a list of more than
a dozen Christian sects officially labeled as cults, allowing the government
to prosecute Mr. Gong and his followers under the anti-cult law.
The law was adopted as part of the government's campaign to eradicate the
Falun Gong spiritual movement and gives the government greater latitude in
prosecuting the leaders of groups that are determined to be cults. Under the
law, cult leaders can be held responsible for injury or death suffered by
followers as a result of cult activities, even if the leaders were not
China previously executed religious sect leaders under other criminal
statutes. In 1999, Liu Jiaguo, the founder of a Christian sect called the
Supreme Spirit Church, was executed for rape. His mentor, Wu Yang ming, the
founder of the Established King Church, was executed for rape in 1995.
The latest death sentences come during a nationwide campaign against crime
that has resulted in thousands of death sentences and executions.
China bans religious practices outside the government-authorized churches,
temples and mosques of the five religions it recognizes: Buddhism, Taoism,
Islam, Roman Catholicism and Protestant Christianity. It frequently arrests
religious leaders who defy the ban, including priests who profess loyalty to
The Communist Party worries that religious groups could transform themselves
into political organizations that might challenge the party's rule. China's
leaders are also concerned that the country's largely undereducated,
relatively poor population is ripe for exploitation by charismatic spiritual
The country has experienced mass spiritual movements in the past during
periods of economic change and weakening central government authority. In the
late-1800's a man claiming to be the brother of Jesus temporarily wrested
control of a large swath of territory from the Qing court. Millions of people
died in fighting.
The Hong Kong human rights center said the Intermediate People's Court of
Jingmen, a city in Hubei Province, found Mr. Gong, 46, guilty of using a cult
to undermine the enforcement of law and of malicious assault and rape.
He was found responsible for serious injuries sustained by four people during
the performance of exorcisms, the report said. It did not say whether Mr. Gong
was directly involved in the reported exorcisms or whether the assault and
rape charges were related to them.
The report said 15 other members of the church were given sentences of two
years to life imprisonment. All of the defendants contend that they are
innocent and are appealing.
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