A court in southeastern China has sentenced a Protestant pastor to 14 years in prison and his wife to 12 years after convicting them of corruption, financial crimes and gathering people to disturb social order, an official provincial newspaper reported on Friday.
The sentences for the pastor, Bao Guohua, and his wife, Xing Wenxiang, were among the harshest imposed recently on clergy members and their associates in China. The newspaper reported that a court had sentenced an additional 10 people who were members of Mr. Bao’s church or a Christian group in the same city, Jinhua, in Zhejiang Province, but it did not give details of those sentences.
The newspaper, Zhejiang Daily, also said that the court had ordered the confiscation from Mr. Bao of 600,000 renminbi, or about $92,000, and fined him $15,300. It said his wife also had $92,000 confiscated and received a fine of less than $14,000.
In the last two years, Zhejiang has been carrying out a campaign to limit the influence there of Christian churches and groups. Christianity has a relatively strong presence in the province, where President Xi Jinping once served as the Communist Party chief.
Officials have removed more than 1,200 crosses from churches and other buildings and in some cases have destroyed entire churches. The government is especially concerned about so-called house churches, which are neither approved nor overseen by officials.
Mr. Bao had official approval to lead a congregation, and he oversaw a government-sanctioned church. Zheng Leguo, a house church preacher now living in the United States, said in an interview on Friday that he believed that Mr. Bao, who has been in detention since at least August, was being persecuted because he had tried to defend his church against an order to take down its cross. Few other government-approved pastors in Jinhua have opposed the campaign of cross removals.
On Thursday night, a well-known Christian lawyer who has helped defend churches during the campaign, Zhang Kai, was shown on a local television station saying that he had colluded with foreign groups to stir up trouble over religion. Mr. Zhang was detained in August just before he was scheduled to meet with an American State Department official to discuss religious freedom in China.
A report on an official news website of Wenzhou, another city in Zhejiang, said that the police had concluded that Mr. Zhang was trying to organize “a series of illegal religious gatherings.”
In the televised statement, Mr. Zhang, who is from Beijing, said that he had received payment from China Aid, a nongovernmental organization based in the United States, and its director, Bob Fu, each time he defended a church or Christian group. He also said that the American group was trying to “change China’s political system.”
In response, Mr. Fu released a statement that said, “Although China Aid is mentioned in the shameful Chinese Communist Party’s official propaganda as an ‘overseas force supporting Zhang Kai’s legal defense work,’ we will never be intimidated nor cease to continue to promote religious freedom for all in China.”
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