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Family urges China to release jailed preacher after he suffers a stroke

Family members of a charismatic Christian preacher whose church is banned as a cult in China are calling for his release from prison after he apparently suffered a stroke that left him unable to walk and speak normally.

The family members of Gong Shengliang petitioned government offices in Beijing this past week and released an open letter earlier this month after seeing his condition.

His sister, Gong Shuzhen, says the family asked the prison to release Gong, only to be rebuffed.

Prison authorities have declined comment.

Gong's South China Church attracted some 100,000 followers before a crackdown. Amid police pressure against the group, Gong's aides beat followers-turned-informants. He was arrested in 2001 and is serving a 19-year sentence for encouraging the beatings and raping at least two followers.