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Relatives protest outside city government offices

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Listen to the original broadcast in Cantonese

Police in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong have beaten to death a member of an unofficial Christian church after her family refused to pay bribes for her release, RFA's Mandarin service reports.

Thirty-three-year-old Zhang Hongmei was detained Oct. 29 for "illegal religious activities," according to a statement from the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.

Police then demanded the following day that her family pay 3,000 yuan (US$362) to secure her release, the statement said. Zhang was a member of an unofficial Christian church in the city.

One government officer interviewed by RFA�s Cantonese service initially denied Zhang�s death, then later said Zhang was a cult member.

Her family went to the police station to press for her release, and said she was unable to speak, and had severe injuries to her head, face and arms.

A woman identifying herself as Zhang�s sister was reluctant at first to speak out, but later told RFA�s Mandarin service �we can only rely on the government in the judgement of the case. The government will redress injustices for the people. Not every communist is a bad guy; communist members are good people.�

On Oct. 31, about 20 of Zhang's relatives protested outside the city government, and were joined by onlookers, the centre said. Authorities sent 50 anti-riot policemen to bar them from charging the building. The crowd dispersed only after the government agreed to investigate the incident.

The report of Zhang's death comes a day after the authorities in the central province of Henan sentenced a leader of an unofficial church to two years' "re-education" in a labor camp, according to a U.S.-based human rights group.

Zhang Yinan was sentenced Monday by the Re-education Through Labor Commission in Henan Province, said Bob Fu, of the Pennsylvania-based China Aid Association, a non-profit Christian organization.

In sentencing Zhang, police cited passages in his prayer journal that expressed hopes for the destruction of Chinese government bodies, Fu said. Police said such passages constituted "anti-Party, anti-Socialist" writings, Fu said, predicting that camp wards would try to force Zhang to renounce his faith.

Zhang Yinan was detained in September in a case thought to be related to the drafting of regulations aimed at coordinating underground churches in China.

China officially tolerates Christian worship, but only within a limited framework of "patriotic" churches recognized and controlled by the Communist Party. Unofficial worshippers are frequently harassed, detained and given prison terms for their activities.

There has been a strong upsurge in spiritual activity in the years of China's economic reforms, with many people turning to religious activities for emotional solace in times of bewildering social change. Popular spiritual groups--including the banned Falungong sect--are often severely repressed.


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