The United States is urging China to release a Christian pastor
who was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Zhang Shaojie was convicted of fraud and gathering crowds to
disturb the public order. His lawyer, Yang Xingquan, says Zhang was set up and targeted by the authorities.
"In the eyes of the authorities, Christianity is growing too fast
there and Pastor Zhang was too influential," Yang said.
Zhang's church has the official sanction from the government
allowing them to meet in Henan province, but they've been arguing with local authorities over land for a new building.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki says Zhang was
prosecuted in retaliation for peaceful advocacy on behalf of his
church, and that China should release the pastor and stop
harassing his family and congregants.
She also said Chinese officials should "allow citizens to worship
freely in accordance with China's own laws and its international
human rights commitments."
Bob Fu, president of the U.S.-based Christian rights group China
Aid, is calling Zhang's conviction "totally unacceptable."
"This case shows the Chinese government continues to cover up
religious persecution with fabricated criminal charges against an
innocent church leader," Fu said in an emailed statement.