Relatives of members of an underground Christian group jailed last month on rape and assault charges have appealed to the United Nations for help. The plea was made in an open letter released by Fu Xiqiu, a US-based Chinese Christian on Wednesday, and addressed to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Human Rights Commissioner Sergio Vieira de Mello. The jailed Christians, members of the banned South China Church, include church founder Gong Shengliang and followers Xu Fuming, Hu Yong, Gong Bangkun and Li Ying. They were sentenced early last month by Jingmen Intermediate People's Court in Hubei to prison terms ranging from life to 15 years. 'We think that the trial by Jingmen Intermediate People's Court is brash and irrational . . . The trial is not based on the constitution and other state laws, and even neglected the primary legal procedures,' said the letter, which was signed by more than a dozen relatives. 'We are all full of fear and feel worried. When will our constitutional rights be safeguarded? When will our country be ruled by law? We are certain that all people of integrity in our country will ask themselves these questions.' The letter alleged that the prosecution authorities in Jingmen city had put pressure on the defendants' lawyers to drop the case. It said that two days before the trial, the defence lawyers were asked to attend a lunch and later a meeting by the judges, who told them not to make information regarding the case public. 'Responsible persons of the court blatantly claimed that the case regarding South China Church was a very important political one, which caught both domestic and international attention, and required the lawyers to keep [information about the cases] secret and co-operate positively with the court to bring a rapid conclusion to the trial,' the letter said. The relatives also criticised police in Jingmen for breaking the law by sentencing four female members who were acquitted by the court to labour re-education after the trial. 'On the evening of the same day [of the trial], the Public Security Bureau of Jingmen City blatantly disregarded the court verdict and sent these four sisters to the labour camp for three years labour re-education without following any legal procedures,' it said. In an indirect reference to a fight which took place between some church members and local residents in Jingmen late last year, the letter admitted some members of the church had broken the law, but said it was unfair to hold leaders like Gong Shengliang responsible for crimes committed by other people.