by Alex Buchan
LONDON, January 31 (Compass) -- In an attempt to ensure fair treatment of house church leader Gong Shengliang, six jailed female co-workers from the embattled South China Church authorized the release on January 29 of three letters detailing how they were tortured by police into providing false testimony against him.
In a secret December trial, Gong was sentenced to death on charges of rape and arson, and of leading a cult. Although due to be executed on January 5, fifty-year-old Gong was granted permission to appeal his death sentence while on death row after international pressure was applied to Beijing.
The letters were passed to the New York-based Committee for Investigation on Persecution of Religion in China. The most recent letter, dated December 11 and signed by 20-year-old Zhang Hongjuan, alleges that she and five other co-workers were tortured mercilessly by police following their arrest in August 2001.
"[The police] put shackles on my hands and feet, and used electric clubs to touch my whole body, especially my chest," Zhang wrote. When she protested her treatment, her interrogators responded, "It's useless to call for help. The Party has given us these fetters and electric clubs for the very purpose of dealing with you."
A 15-year-old house church member, identified only as Fengmiao, had her chest, hands and feet covered in huge blisters from the electric club. Another co-worker, Tongman, was screamed at by the police, "You are not pure. You're a sham. How many times have you slept with Gong?"
Another woman, Wang Lan, passed out several times as a result of severe beatings, the letter said. When police saw she was not eating, they rushed her to a hospital hoping to prove she was pregnant, intending to claim Gong was the father. But the test proved negative. Another woman, Tong Cuijuan, was badly beaten and police allegedly said, "A three-year sentence will be unfair . because she cooperated with us very satisfactorily."
"The police tortured us in this ruthless manner for no other purpose but to get 'verbal and material' evidence to accuse and incriminate our teacher [Gong Shengliang]," the letter concluded.
Chinese officials continue to take a tough line on Gong's fate. Responding to criticism in a January 9 editorial in "USA Today," Xia Geng, spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., claimed Gong was sentenced to death under "Chinese criminal law" on various charges, including the rape of 14 women. No indication has been given that the evidence will be reviewed or even when his appeal process will begin. The relatives to whom the letters were sent fear that the forced rape confessions of the women will still be used against him.
The Chinese government has defined the South China Church, the huge Born Again movement, and the Local Church or "Shouter" house church movements as "cults." As such, members of these groups are bracing themselves for widespread arrests and severe beatings by police, some of whom earn financial bonuses per number of arrests and convictions.
"Once we have been labeled a cult, government officials can do what they like to us, claiming we are just criminals, and so there is no religious persecution going on," a leader of the Born Again movement said. "It is a cynical ploy to deflect human rights criticism, and so patently false everyone should see through it."
Copyright 2002 Compass Direct, Used with Permission.