The following is from Jeremy Weber on the Christianity Today blog.
Chinese pastor Gong Shengliang once faced the death penalty for leading a 50,000-strong movement of innovative yet unregistered house churches. Now, imprisoned since 2001, the South China Church (SCC) founder is dying from lack of medical care, according to his daughter.
In an open letter to Chinese president Xi Jingping, Gong Huali describes the torture suffered by her father over the past decade and appeals for medical treatment. She writes:
"[My father's] life is in grave danger.... Accordingly, we have asked for his release on bail for urgent medical treatment. But, again and again, our petitions have been completely ignored, without any reasonable response. It is very urgent for my father to have immediate medical treatment, otherwise he will either die soon while imprisoned under false pretense or remain severely disabled for the remainder of his life."
CT reported how Gong's 2001 death sentence on charges of rape, arson, and leading a cult drew international headlines, especially after three women revealed they had been tortured into making the rape allegations against him. Intervention by the Bush administration helped earn Gong a retrial and re-sentencing to life in prison instead.
A star witness against Gong escaped to the United States in 2005 and also recanted her testimony.
The death sentence against Gong and four other SCC leaders in 2001 "were the first against evangelicals under China's recent restrictions on religious groups using "anti-cult" regulations," CT noted at the time.
Gong is the founder and leader of one of China's larger church networks. His South China Church emerged in the 1990s as one of the fastest growing and innovative of the church
Gong organized "armies" of evangelists to tackle different areas of China with singing, preaching, and poster paintings teaching the gospel. An unusual feature of the movement is that all members are required to memorize the Christian confessions, including the Westminster Confession of Faith.
CT has reported on many cases in China similar to Gong's in the past, but also noted recent debate over whether or not persecution in China has gotten better or worse.