Chinese Christian Pastor Sentenced To One Year In Prison After Protesting Forced Cross Removals

Beijing — A Christian pastor who questioned authorities in eastern China about the forced removal of crosses from the roofs of churches was sentenced Tuesday to one year in prison, his lawyer said.

Huang Yizi is the first person to be jailed for opposing Zhejiang province's intense campaign to remove crosses from churches.

Authorities in the province tore down about 400 rooftop crosses last year, saying they violated the building code. Churchgoers and religious rights advocates say the Christian faith is being targeted because its rapid growth unnerves the ruling Communist Party.

After a six-hour trial, a court in the city of Pingyang found Huang guilty of gathering crowds to disrupt social order, lawyer Zhang Kai said by telephone.

A woman who answered the court's phone and gave only her family name, Li, confirmed that Huang's trial took place Tuesday afternoon. The phone rang unanswered in the evening, when the trial ended.

Huang, an outspoken pastor, was taken away by police last summer after he brought some parishioners to a local government building to demand answers about a July clash in which security personnel armed with sticks attacked congregation members who had been keeping a night vigil over the cross atop their sanctuary.

Huang also urged local church leaders to put back the toppled crosses.

Zhang said the charge stemmed largely from the gathering in front of the government building, but said Huang did not disrupt social order and instead played a mediating role.

Zhang said the defense argued that Huang's activism was justified because authorities violated the law by trying to remove the cross by force and without legal ground. The court rejected that defense, Zhang said.