Chinese law expert, U.S. group say church killings defendants tortured into confessing |

Chinese law expert, U.S. group say church killings defendants tortured into confessing

BEIJING – Leaders of an underground Chinese church who are accused of killing of 20 members of a rival group were tortured into confessing in a crackdown on unofficial religious organizations, a U.S.-based activist and a Chinese legal scholar said Tuesday.The trial of 17 members of the Three Ranks of Servants church began Monday in the northeastern Chinese city of Shuangyashan.Ten are charged with murder – punishable by death in China – while the rest face charges including illegal detention, said Bob Fu, president of China Aid Association, a religious rights group in Midland, Texas.The trial involves the alleged killings of members of Eastern Lightning, one of China’s many unregistered church groups, China Aid said in a statement.Fu said his group was “100 percent certain” that the accused had been tortured into confessing. He cited the defendants’ family members, court documents and officials who are concerned that the imminent death sentences could keep the truth about the case from coming to light.Fu said the prosecutions were part of a crackdown on increasingly popular unofficial religious groups, which the communist government sees a threat to its monopoly on power. He said the Three Ranks of Servants church and the Eastern Lightning group are believed to have hundreds of thousands of members around China.”The Chinese government has a new strategy to criminalize any religious organization or individual that is not embraced by the government, with the intent to destroy that organization or individual,” he said.Beijing permits worship only in state-monitored churches, and members of underground groups are often detained and harassed. Leading figures in several religious groups have been imprisoned on assault, rape and other charges that their supporters say are fabricated in an attempt to break up their organizations.Fan Yawei, a legal scholar at the China Academy of Social Science in Beijing, said Tuesday that at least some of the defendants had been tortured for seven days to force them to confess but later told lawyers they were innocent of all the charges against them.Fan said he had been following the case out of personal interest, and did not want to identify his sources.Both Fu and Fan said that several Chinese underground churches have a history of infighting, rivalry and sometimes violence.Telephones rang unanswered at the offices of Heilongjiang province’s Shuangyashan Intermediate Court, where the trial was being held.Vail, Colorado

Support Local Journalism