Marking the first prison term handed down by authorities in Zhejiang province following a demolition campaign targeting hundreds of churches, a Chinese court Tuesday sentenced a Protestant pastor to a year behind bars.
For protesting the demolitions, Pastor Huang Yizi was found guilty for “gathering a crowd to disturb public order.” He, along with other Christians, were trying protect the cross of Salvation Church from police in July of last year, but were unsuccessful, reported ucanews.com.
In August, Pastor Huang of Fenwo Church was detained one month after police forced their way past Christians at Salvation Church during the height of a campaign in the province in which 400 crosses were removed and 35 churches destroyed.
During this police raid, more than a dozen Christians were hospitalized including three people who reportedly suffered fractured skulls.
Prosecutors originally charged Pastor Huang with assaulting state officials but later altered the charges to ‘disturbing public order.’
Months ago, the Public Security Bureau and local government told the pastor he would be released if he dismissed his lawyer, even though this violates Chinese law. When he followed their request in December, he wasn’t released and rehired his legal team.
In January, Pastor Huang’s defense team filed three counter suits, including wrongful detention, but the court refused to accept them without justifying its decision.
Following the trial which ended last night, some 600 supporting the pastor crowded outside the Pingyang County courthouse. Many complained authorities had filled the court with officials, so that only six friends and family members could attend.
In order to travel to Beijing to petition the central government over the case, the pastor’s wife missed yesterday’s trial.
Although the Communist Party yesterday issued guidelines it said would see greater public and central government oversight over provincial and city authorities given years of abuses, these are not expected to be fully implemented until the end of next year, if at all.
“Through arbitrary arrests, baseless prosecution and illegal procedures throughout this trial, this case shows once again the worsening situation of religious freedom and rule of law in China,” said Pastor Bob Fu, president of China Aid.
“We call upon China’s higher authorities to overturn this unjust decision and free Pastor Huang immediately,” he appealed.