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China releases Korean-American missionary: lawyer

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has released a Korean-American missionary arrested last year over a non-profit school he ran near the border with North Korea, his lawyer said, resolving a case that sparked outcry from international Christian groups.

A crackdown has forced hundreds of Christian missionaries out of China, most by having their visas refused, sources told Reuters last year.

Supporters of Korean-American missionary Peter Hahn had said authorities targeted him because of his Christian faith and because of the small vocational school he ran.

His release comes ahead of a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to the United States in late September, during which a draft Chinese law governing non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is expected to be a point of contention.

Hahn’s lawyer, Zhang Peihong, said his client, who has diabetes and has suffered strokes, was in stable heath and recovering in the South Korean capital, Seoul, after Chinese authorities released him on Aug. 17.

“It’s not that he has been freed (early). He was sentenced to nine months and those nine months have been served,” Zhang said.

Zhang told Reuters in July that authorities had dropped three of the four charges against Hahn, 74, probably for lack of evidence, leaving only the least serious charge of counterfeiting receipts.

Western governments and foreign non-profit groups are pressuring China to revise the proposed NGO law, which they say would severely restrict the activities of aid and business groups and universities.

The law, which was opened for public consultation in May, would require foreign non-profit groups to find an official sponsor, typically a government-backed agency, and gives broad latitude to the police to regulate activities and funding.

Hahn’s school in the border town of Tumen was shut down after an investigation last year that lasted months. He was formally arrested in December after months under house arrest, and was tried in Yanbian prefecture, near the North Korean border.

Last year, a Canadian Christian couple who worked with North Korean refugees and ran a coffee shop in Dandong on the Chinese border were accused of espionage by the Chinese government.

Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Robert Birsel