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China deports 3 Protestant evangelists

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BEIJING — China has deported three U.S. evangelists after detaining them in a roundup of underground Protestant worshippers in central China, a human-rights group reported Monday.

The report of their release, however, was accompanied by news that dozens of the Chinese worshippers detained along with them have been sent to jail.

An additional 50 followers of secret Protestant fellowships were arrested in three Chinese provinces, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy.

The evangelists, Henry Chu, Sandee Lin and Patricia Lan, were put on planes Saturday in the coastal city of Shanghai, about 465 miles from where they were detained Aug. 23 in Henan province, the center reported.

Police confiscated about $650 from Chu, claiming it as transportation costs from Henan, the center said.

Chu and Lin, who are married, flew to Taiwan via Hong Kong, while Lan flew to San Francisco, the center said. All three are reportedly residents of California.

They apparently arrived in China on Aug. 14, and were identified by the center as missionaries. During their detention, they were beaten, kicked and restrained by handcuffs so tight their hands were numb for days, the center said.

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing said a consular officer who attempted to see them in Henan was told they were released on Friday after being held for "activities incompatible with the tourist status under which they entered China."

Police and officials in Xihua county refused to confirm the arrests.

Of the 127 Chinese held along with them, 70 have been transferred to a jail and will likely be charged for belonging to a cult, the center said.

All were followers of the Fangcheng church, one of scores of so-called house churches that operate out of private homes in defiance of restrictions on worship.

China's communist government forbids organized religious activities outside state-sanctioned churches.

Chinese religious leaders are currently touring the United States in an attempt to resolve what they describe as "misunderstandings" about religious freedom in China.

China has experienced a religious resurgence in recent years as free-market reforms discredit communist ideology and loosen once-tight social controls. The government last year began cracking down on underground churches and health groups, the Falun Gong foremost among them.

In a separate report, the Information Center, said the leader of another health group, Shen Chang, was arrested last month and formally charged with disturbing social order and tax evasion. The former charge stems from a protest outside the Workers Daily newspaper in 1996, after it ran a report criticizing Shen Chang's Science of the Human Body, the group said.

The Information Center also reported that police in another part of Henan arrested 12 members of a house church during a worship service on August 10.

An official of the public security bureau in Henan's Yucheng county confirmed the arrests, and said the group, the Gospel Fellowship, has been banned as a cult.

Another 31 Christians were arrested near Guangshui city in Hubei province Aug. 2, the center said. It did not identify the name of the group, but said four members had been jailed and would likely serve sentences in a labor camp. Police in the city denied the report.

Seven other Christians were arrested during a service in Shanxi province's Hejin county Aug. 24, the center said. Police refused to comment.