China Postpones Death Sentence against Christian Pastor
Freedom House welcomes latest development; calls for more pressure on Beijing
January 7, 2002
by Center for Religious Freedom
According to the U.S. State Department and Christian sources in China, China's Hubei appeals court has postponed a decision in a prominent death sentence case. On January 5 the court was to decide the fate of Pastor Gong Shengliang, founder of the Christian South China Church. Freedom House welcomes news of the postponement and is urging no let up in pressure on Beijing.
Pastor Gong had appealed a death sentence delivered on December 5, 2001, on charges of using an "evil cult" to undermine the enforcement of law, and of malicious assault and rape. In China, such executions are usually carried out within a week of an appeal decision.
After receiving letters from two of the alleged rape victims recanting their testimony against Gong and stating that they had made false accusations after being tortured by police, Freedom House concluded that the criminal charges against Gong were manufactured by the Chinese authorities.
Freedom House deplores the charges against Pastor Gong on the basis they violate religious freedom. "The charges demonstrates that China persists in arrogating to itself the right to determine religious doctrine, determine what is Christian heterodoxy, designate religious leaders, and to do so by the most brutal means," stated Nina Shea, director of Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom.
Freedom House had appealed to President Bush to protest the planned execution of Pastor Gong and subsequently learned that both the Bush administration and members of Congress issued demarches to Chinese officials.
"The postponement of the appeal is an indication that international pressure has given Beijing pause," said Ms. Shea. "While Pastor Gong still faces considerable obstacles, we are encouraged that he is not to be put to death this week. We must keep up the pressure," she added.
Pastor Gong's 16 co-defendants have been given suspended death sentences, or prison terms ranging from two years to life.