A United States-based rights group has called on the international community to put pressure on Beijing to release two leaders of underground Christian house churches who have been re-detained by the Chinese authorities, RFA's Mandarin service reports.

Zeng Guangbo, a house-church leader from Nanyang City in the central Chinese province of Henan, was re-arrested March 1 in Inner Mongolia while trying to cross the border into Russia to attend a house church ministry there, the Philadelphia-based China Aid Association (CAA) said in a statement.

"CAA deplores the recent series of arrests and arbitrary detention of these innocent church leaders and calls the China National People's Congress to seriously implement the relevant international human rights covenants she enacted for the protection of Chinese citizens religious freedom," the statement said.

Another church leader, Xu Yongling, was arrested on Jan. 25 and is now known to be in the custody of the Henan National Security Bureau, the group said. Xu was finally allowed to talk with her relatives in Nanyang on March 5. In a supervised phone conversation she indicated that the police might use a false promise to trap her nephew if he tried to bail her out, it added.

"We are Christians and we have been Christians for a few generations," Xu Yongling's U.S.-based brother, Xu Yongze, told RFA in a recent interview. "My sister became Christian when she was 17. From then on, she has devoted herself to the Lord and vowed to serve Him for the rest of her life. She goes all over the country to spread the Gospel," he said.

He said his sister, who is 58 years old, was in poor health. "She has been single for her entire life and doesn't have a family," he said. "I ask the authorities to release my sister. This is my only wish," said Xu Yongze, who has himself served a three-year jail term for running an underground church after a visit to China by the U.S. evangelist Billy Graham.

"Zeng Guangbo was a military policeman at the Department of Broadcasting and TV in Beijing in 1988," CAA spokesman Bob Fu told RFA. "At that time, Billy Graham, a famous American evangelist went to China to preach and invited Pastor Xu Yongze, a well-known house-church leader in Henan, to meet in Beijing."

Fu said Xu was detained by Beijing police before he got a chance to meet Graham, but did meet Zeng during the same visit. "[The charge was being] a so-called cult member," Fu said. "He was sentenced to three years' imprisonment."

Earlier, Fu said in a statement he expected the Nanyang authorities to mete out a harsh punishment to the 36 year-old Zeng. "The police in Nanyang are notorious for their brutality towards house church Christians," Fu said. "Because Zeng has been closely working with the 'Born-again' movement leader Xu Yongling, the police may use whatever means necessary including torture to get information from him."

China's Communist regime tolerates strictly controlled and officially recognized Christian churches, but cracks down harshly on any unofficial religious movements with a strong popular following, fearing that they might grow powerful enough to overthrow it. It is particularly sensitive to overseas involvement in religious and human rights-related activities within Chinese borders.#####


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