China Sentences Bible Smugglers to Prison, Not Death

HONG KONG, JAN. 28, 2002 (ZENIT.orgFides).- A Hong Kong businessman arrested last year for smuggling thousands of Bibles into China was sentenced today to two years in prison.

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He risked the death penalty for spreading «an evil cult that undermines the stability of the nation.»

After protests by human rights activists, and U.S. pressure, Fuqing city court, in mainland China´s Fujian Province, downgraded charges against Lai Kwong-keung, 38, to «illegal trading.» That charge carries a maximum of five years of detention.

The charges were also changed for two other men arrested with Lai, Yu Zhudi and Lin Xifu, accused of helping him, who were imprisoned for three years. The three men were arrested last May for delivering 33,000 Bibles to the underground religious organization known as the Shouters.

Observers say that rather than a sign of religious tolerance, the move comes in view of U.S. President George W. Bush’s visit to China next month.

In December, a Hubei Province court gave the death penalty to pastor Gong Shengliang of the South China Church and his niece Li Ying for leading an «evil cult.»

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