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China executes Christian sect leaders accused of killings

[JURIST] Chinese authorities have executed the founder of a Chinese Christian church [BBC backgrounder] and two of his close associates for allegedly ordering the murders of several members of a rival religious sect, a lawyer for Xu Shuangfu [CSW materials] said Wednesday. The death penalty apparently imposed last week on the former head of the Three Grades of Servants Church without any notification to his family or defense team is part of a crackdown by the government of China [JURIST news archive] on underground religious organizations that authorities label as cults. Making the sects illegal prohibits them from recruiting members or raising money, so the churches go underground to worship. Xu's conviction and July 2006 sentencing [China Aid report] stemmed from the 2002 murders of members of the Eastern Lightning Church, which attempted to steal followers away from the Three Grades of Servants Church. Christian groups say that 15 members of the Three Grades Church have been executed by Chinese authorities so far.

Xu's family does not claim that the murders never happened, but contends that his trial was wrought with flaws [Xu defense statement] and included no physical evidence linking Xu to the deaths. Prosecutors instead relied on confessions of fellow church members, which Xu's lawyer says were garnered by torture. Earlier this year, the Falun Gong spiritual group [Wikipedia backgrounder], also banned by the Chinese government, alleged [JURIST report] that thousands of its followers were being held in a Chinese "concentration camp" to be killed for organ-harvesting. Thursday's New York Times has more.

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