A church leader in China has been sentenced to death-Truth!

A Christian Church Leader in China Has Been Sentenced to DeathTruth!

Summary of eRumor:
Gong Shengliang, the leader of the South China church, a house church group, has been sentenced to death, and the penalty could be carried out on January 5th.  Fifteen other members of the church group were also given prison sentences.  Chinese authorities say the church is a cult and that Gong was guilty of rape and “undermining the law.”

The Truth:

According to reports from the underground church in China, Pastor Gong’s execution has been delayed and may be appealed. There is a chance his sentence could be reduced.  Human rights observers say the visibility of the case has helped turn it around.  Authorities in China apparently hoped to sentence and execute Rev. Gong without much public attention. 

Gong is regarded as an influential Christian leader in China.  The South China Church was started in 1991 as an offshoot of the All Ranges Church founded by the well-know Pastor Peter Xu.  The South China Church is said to have more than 50,000 members.

According to Nina Shea, a human rights expert with Freedom House in Washington, D.C., Gong was arrested in August, 2001, and sentenced to death on December 5, 2001.  Four other leaders were also given death sentences, but they were commuted, possibly setting the stage for life sentences.  One of those originally given a death penalty was Gong’s niece, 37-year-old Li Ying.

Shea says the Chinese authorities issued a “top secret” report in August outlining the charges against Gong and labeling the South China church “an evil cult.”  In the document, Gong was officially accused of using a cult to undermine the enforcement of law and of malicious assault and rape.  Local Chinese Christians say the rape charges are false and have been used by Chinese authorities in the past as a part of incriminating Chinese Christian leaders.  The report of charges claims that Gong and his followers “took revenge” on the people who reported their illegal activities through beatings and throwing sulfuric acid.  The report also claims that eleven women who were also arrested said that Gong had used his position of authority to rape them.  Freedom house says that two of the women have since repudiated the rape charges and claim they were beaten by Chinese authorities to make it appear as though they had been assault victims and that the rape accusations came after they were tortured with electricity while in custody.

It’s part of a crackdown on the part of Chinese authorities on “unregistered” churches.   As has been the case in previous communist countries, China has an official registered church, but numerous religious groups have refused to come under the umbrella of the government-sanctioned church.

In another case, a Hong Kong businessman named Li Guangqiang has been released from custody after originally being sentenced to 2 years in prison for smuggling thousands of Bibles into China.  He was released as a good-will gesture in connection with a visit to China by U.S. president George W. Bush.