Fri Aug 6, 7:13 AM ET - By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN, Associated Press Writer
BEIJING - A Chinese court on Friday sentenced three activists in the independent Protestant church to up to three years in prison for leaking state secrets, a court official and overseas church activist said.
The independent church refers to loosely affiliated groups whose followers worship outside the Communist Party-controlled official Protestant church.
The court in the eastern city of Hangzhou found Xu Yonghai, Liu Fenggang and Zhang Shengqi guilty of passing on information to an overseas magazine about a court case involving another member of the independent church, the China Aid Association said.
Liu was also found guilty of passing on information about the destruction of unofficial churches outside Hangzhou in a crackdown last year, CAA reported. Liu received a three-year sentence, Xu two years and Zhang one year, the group said.
A judge at the Hangzhou court's No. 1 criminal division confirmed the three men had been sentenced, saying their cases were now closed. The judge, who identified himself only by his surname, Zhang, declined to give further details.
The cases against the men apparently stem from their efforts to publicize last year's crackdown on unofficial churches. Hundreds of ministers and worshippers were reportedly detained in sweeps by police and dozens of churches destroyed.
China stages such crackdowns to enforce its insistence that Christians worship only in government-controlled churches. Despite harassment, fines and the possibility of prison, millions of Protestants and Catholics continue to attend unauthorized assemblies, including in private homes.
Chinese officials deny violating religious freedoms, saying detained activists are criminals who violated Chinese law and threatened national security.