China says it suppressed an illegal cult, not an underground church

Posted: Friday, September 08, 2000

BEIJING (AP) -- China says 105 people arrested in what human rights campaigners consider a crackdown on an underground Christian church were really members of an illegal cult.

The Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy reported that 130 members of the Fangcheng church were rounded up Aug. 23 in Henan province, including three U.S. evangelists from the California-based Chinese Vineyard Church Fellowship who were later deported.

But in the foreign ministry's first comment on the incident, a spokesman said, ''There is no such thing as the so-called Fangcheng religion in China.'' He said those arrested follow a ''national scope church'' that had been banned by the regime.

The meeting ''seriously affected the normal production and lives of people in the area'' and was broken up by police acting on public complaints, he said.

China is increasingly using anti-cult laws, tightened last year during a crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual movement, to target underground churches and meditation groups that officials view as threats.

Fangcheng church founder Zhang Rongliang was sentenced to two years in a labor camp last December for leading a cult. The group is one of many clandestine Christian ''house churches'' that cannot worship openly because the atheistic regime forbids meetings outside state-sanctioned churches.

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