AUTHORITIES in the city of Shenyang, Liaoning province, have freed a pastor who organised public rallies to protest against the Government's occupation of church properties. The Reverend Gao Liangyi of the Shenyang Dongguan Protestant Church was released on probation on January 27, according to the Reverend Claudia Oblau, spokesman for the Amity Press Foundation in Hong Kong, a body affiliated to the Chinese Christian Council in Nanjing. Ms Oblau said Mr Gao was released after he made a public apology. No charges have been laid against another pastor of the church who was also involved in the rallies, the Reverend Gao Peiman. However, Ms Oblau said the current status of the two men remained unclear. There were suggestions that they might be transferred to another church. It was believed that their release was partly due to efforts by senior members of the council who have said they believe that if charges were laid against the clergymen, they would be given given fair trial. Dr Han Wenzao, the new general secretary of the council told the South China Morning Post earlier that the council would look into the situation. A Hong Kong church leader who monitored church movements in China said the release was partly due to strong reactions from overseas church groups and publicity. 'It seems obvious that public attention helps in cases like this,' he said. 'Although the Chinese authorities said publicity would only backfire.' Another Hong Kong clergyman said news of the release came as a surprise as the Shenyang authorities indicated earlier that they would prosecute the pastor for disrupting public order. 'That's good news. Although he is only released on probation, it is still better than being locked up in jail,' he commented. The release was apparently unrelated to a visit by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance, AdelfattahAmor, to China last November. Although Mr Amor did ask for the release of 79 religious activists, the two Shenyang pastors were not among them. It was reported that the two reverends got into trouble with the religious authorities in Shenyang in November 1993 when they approached the city's religious affairs bureau to seek assistance to reclaim some of the church's properties to cope with the rapid expansion in the congregation. However, their demands were turned down. The congregation supported the two pastors and voted to form a committee to take over the management of the church in a open revolt against two church leaders appointed by the authorities. The pastors were later arrested when the church leaders called in the police to take control of the property.