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China releases house church leader

Rights groups welcome release but want freedom for all religious detainees

A prominent Chinese house church leader, Zhang Rongliang, has been released from prison nine months early, rights groups say. Zhang, 61, was arrested in December 2004 and sentenced in July 2006 for "attaining a passport through cheating" and "illegal border crossing." He had travelled to several countries, including the United States, Australia, Egypt and Singapore, for religious conferences. He has chronic diabetes, which had become so serious that he was transferred to a hospital for nearly two months while awaiting trial. During his jail term, there were international calls for his release because of fears that he would die in prison. Zhang was released on August 31, the US-based group ChinaAid said at the weekend, and was allowed to return to his home near Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province. One of the most prominent leaders of the unofficial Chinese church, Zhang heads the China for Christ Church network, which according to the rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has more than 10 million members. “CSW welcomes the early release of Pastor Zhang,” the group’s special ambassador, Stuart Windsor, said in a statement from the group’s London office yesterday. But he added: “CSW calls upon the international community to continue to urge China to release immediately those detained for their religious beliefs, including those held under house arrest.” Related reports: Call to release house church pastor Police detain house church group

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