Two prominent underground Christian leaders in China have been formally charged with revealing state secrets to a foreign organization, an accusation that translates to five years to life in prison.
Both church historian Liu Fenggang and psychiatrist Xu Yonghai were arrested from their homes and taken into custody without initial warrant. Xus wife, Li Shanna was arrested alongside her husband on November 9, and was released six hours later.
Li learned of the official charge against her husband, who remained in detention ever since the arrest, on Feb. 23.
"What's the definition of state secret? What's the illegal foreign organization?" she asked upon hearing the charge.
According to Li, Liu Fenggang was also charged on the same account.
Liu, a member of the same house-church as Xu, was arrested in Hanzhou last October, where he had gone to research on the razing of at least 11 large churches in the province since last July.
The president of the Human Rights in China group, Liu Qing, called for the immediate release of the two leaders.
It is ludicrous to designate as a state secret actions taken against members of the public such as the destruction of a house of worship and personal property, said Liu Qing.
The government should certainly feel ashamed of such actions, which in no way conform with Chinas claims of respecting freedom of worship. But the government is wrong to persecute people who want to raise public awareness of what has happened.
While China reportedly has 15 million Protestants and 5 million Catholics registered in official churches, it is believed that at least 30 million more worship at underground churches.