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Chinese lawyers under scrutiny for 'illegally' defending Christians

(Reuters/Thomas Peter)Paramilitary police officers stand underneath a security camera near Beijing's Tiananmen Square, China May 19, 2017. Picture taken May 19, 2017.

A group of lawyers came under scrutiny for defending 40 Christians who were accused of being members of a cult in China's southern Yunnan province.

According to China Aid, the 40 Christians were among the 200 people arrested across Yunnan for their supposed involvement in the Three Grades of Servants, a religious organization that has been labeled by the Communist Party as a dangerous cult.

The lawyers of the accused Christians recently received notices warning that their qualifications will come under the review of the government because they are illegally defending their clients.

One of the lawyers, Xiao Yunyang, said that he and his colleagues are now trying to come up with a contingency plan so that they can continue defending the Christians.

China Aid reported that 10 Christians are yet to be tried, while 13 Christians are waiting to hear their verdict.

The Christians were reportedly accused of being cult leaders, spreading apocalypse rumors, accommodating secret gatherings and fostering new religious leaders, among other charges. All of the accused maintained that they only believed in Jesus, while one of them said she was only good work according to Biblical principles and preached how humans can be saved.

The crackdown reportedly began on Oct. 21, 2016, following the creation of a special investigative force on March 15 that same year.

The Chinese Communist Party has targeted lawyers in the past for defending Christians and other victims of human rights abuses in China. In July 2015, as many as 248 people were detained or questioned by the police as part of a nationwide crackdown human rights lawyers and activists.

Among the lawyers caught up in the widespread sweep was human rights lawyer Li Heping, who has defended Christians, Falun Gong adherents, well-known dissident and human rights attorney Gao Zhisheng and blind activist Chen Guangcheng.

Bob Fu, the founder and president of China Aid, said that Li suffered "sadistic torture" at the hands of Communist Party officials while he was incarcerated.

"There were times that I wanted to commit suicide. I survived because of my Christian faith, the courageous advocacy of my wife and the attention of the international community," Li reportedly said, as quoted by Fu.

Li explained that he had been drugged with unknown substances and forced to take six pills a day for almost two years after he was "diagnosed" with high blood pressure.

Fu said that Li and other human rights lawyers reportedly endured confinement in frigid cells, beatings, electric shocks, sleep deprivation and being chained in stress positions. He noted that while some lawyers have been rescued, others remain "in jail and are in danger of horrific torture. We cannot forget them. Silence may equal their death."

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