Five members of an unregistered Chinese Protestant congregation have been sentenced to two years in a labor camp following a police raid on their church, a monitoring group said Wednesday.
The report comes less than a week after five leaders of the same church in the northern province of Shanxi were sentenced to prison terms of up to seven years on charges including illegal assembly, the toughest punishments against unofficial church leaders in more than three years.
Hundreds of police and security guards reportedly raided sunrise services held at a rented dormitory building by the 50,000-member Linfen Fushan Church on Sept. 13. The five sentenced to a labor camp were detained for organizing a protest the next day attended by 1,000 people, the U.S.-based China Aid Association said.
China's Communist government requires all Protestants to worship in the non-denominational Three-Self Patriotic Movement. Unregistered congregations known as "house churches" suffer varying degrees of harassment from authorities.
Despite that, the house church movement is booming, a response both to the limited resources of the official church and opposition to government restrictions on worship.
Chinese law allows police to sentence people to up to three years in "education through labor" camps without any trial. The measure _ much criticized for its lack of due process and susceptibility to abuse _ is frequently used to punish drug abusers, prostitutes, minor criminals and political or religious dissidents.