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A key witness against prominent China house-church leader Pastor Shengliang Gong says she was tortured and sexually abused to force her to sign testimony charging the pastor with sexual assault and rape.

In 2001, the Chinese government prepared a criminal case against the pastor by arresting several of his followers and allegedly coercing them to sign statements incriminating the pastor with sexual misconduct. Lianzhi (Sarah) Liu, 33, was arrested on May 27, 2001. In August 2001, the Chinese government arrested Pastor Gong and dozens his followers.

The government claimed in court that Liu and more than a dozen other female members of the South China Church had signed testimonies that Pastor Gong raped or mistreated them. Initially, the Chinese government imposed the death penalty on the pastor. After an international uproar and Bush administration intervention, the government retried the case in 2002 and handed down a sentence of life imprisonment. The case continues to reverberate internationally as evidence of government misconduct becomes clearer.

Liu was recently able to escape from close surveillance in China due to the efforts of China Aid, an American group led by Bob Fu, a Chinese church leader now based in the United States. At a press conference on February 10 at the National Press Club in Washington D.C., Fu said that Liu's treatment indicated that religious freedom in China is deteriorating.

From the beginning, defenders of Gong have charged that the government coerced or faked Liu's written affidavit at Gong's trials. During the first trial, three women who were imprisoned with Liu circulated their eyewitness accounts of how Liu was beaten, shocked, and sexually assaulted to force her to sign a statement against ...

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