Imprisoned China Protestant reported in poor health

Posted: Friday, April 23, 2004

SHANGHAI, China (AP) The imprisoned pastor of a banned Protestant group in China is in failing health, a monitoring report said.

Gong Shengliang, 49, who founded the South China Church in the early 1990s, is serving a life sentence for rape and assault, charges supporters say he denies. His earlier death sentence, for running an alleged cult, was thrown out.

China's atheistic rulers allow worship only in state-approved churches and routinely harass independent churches. Millions defy those rules and attend unauthorized services, often in homes.

Gong's church at one time claimed 50,000 followers in central China and ran its own seminaries and publishing house.

The report, from America's China Aid Association, said Gong could not walk unassisted and was carried into a brief prison visit with relatives last week in Wuhan. A prison spokesman said he suffered a routine fall. Officials denied earlier reports of mistreatment.

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