Two ministers in China’s unrecognized Protestant church have been sentenced to one year each in a labor camp on charges of using an “evil cult” to obstruct the law, a U.S. monitoring group said July 9.

The two men were detained on June 15 along with four other church leaders during a worship service in eastern Shandong province, just south of Beijing, said the China Aid Association (CAA), based in Midland, Texas/USA.

No details were given of the charges, although China typically uses the vague anti-cult legislation to punish those worshipping outside the tightly controlled official Communist Party-recognized church.

The group said Zhang Geming and Sun Qingwen were sentenced on June 29 to “re-education through labor,” an extrajudicial punishment that avoids a trial.

The Aid Association said the two were evangelical ministers from the neighboring province of Henan. Four Shandong ministers detained with them were released after paying fines of $131 each.

An officer answering phones at police headquarters in Cao county, where Zhang and Sun were detained, said he had no knowledge of their cases. Phones at the labor camp in Jining, where they were being held, rang unanswered.

Despite the risk of harassment, fines and imprisonment, millions of Chinese continue to worship in the unofficial groups, often called “house churches” because they meet in private homes.

Source: News Agency The Associated Press (AP)