St. Charles Herald-Guide

Spirit Weekly

From staff and wire reports - September 20, 2007

BEIJING (AP) _ A leader of China's underground Protestant church has been released from a three-year prison term for distributing Bibles and other religious literature without a business license, an overseas monitoring group said Sunday.

Pastor Cai Zhuohua returned to his Beijing home on Sept. 10 in good physical and mental condition, the China Aid Association said in a statement.

The association, based in the U.S. city of Midland, Texas, said Cai had been told not to speak about his prison experience and to report to a local police station once a month.

Cai's pretrial detention appeared to have been counted toward his sentence. He had been detained about 14 months before he was convicted in November 2005.

Cai had been sentenced for ``illegal business practices'' after police searched a warehouse managed by Cai and found more than 200,000 pieces of Christian literature, including Bibles.

China's sole legal government-controlled church maintains a monopoly on the printing and distribution of religious literature and other church materials.

The Chinese government only allows worship in churches run by state-monitored religious associations, although millions of Christians risk harassment or worse by gathering in independent church groups, often run out of private homes.

Cai's lawyers said he gave away the religious materials for free and denied he was running a business.

The association said Cai had been deprived of religious reading material in prison, where he had been forced to work for 10-12 hours each day.

``Since pastor has already served unjustified three years sentence, to continue to restrict his freedom of movement is a violation of Chinese own law,'' the association's president, Bob Fu, said in the statement.

``We urge the international community to continue to press the worsening situation on religious freedom and human rights in China,'' Fu said.

China's officially atheistic Communist government denies persecuting believers, but says all religious groups must follow the law and place love of nation above all else.