China puts pastor under surveillance after release from jail for opposing cross removal campaign

(REUTERS / Kim Kyung-Hoon)A cross on an underground Catholic church is silhouetted in Tianjin November 10, 2013.

China has released a Christian pastor who was arrested for opposing the cross-removal campaign in the Zhejiang province, but he has been placed under surveillance.

Pastor Gu Yuese, the senior pastor of state-approved Chongyi Church, was detained in January and was formally arrested in February over charges of embezzling funds. He was fired from the church after his detention, according to BBC.

Despite the embezzlement charges, the government did not reveal details on his case. Human rights activists say the pastor's arrest stemmed from his opposition to the state's cross-removal campaign. Gu was reportedly imprisoned in a "black jail" for three months, Christianity Daily reports.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide chief executive Mervyn Thomas applauded the news of Pastor Gu's release. However, he expressed concern over the pastor's situation, saying Gu is not really free because he has been put under residential surveillance.

Before Gu was arrested, he wrote an open letter to the 10,000 members of Chongyi. The letter warned of an upcoming "cold" time to beset Hangzhou, which apparently referred to the state's crackdown on church crosses.

"Chongyi Church is also experiencing unprecedented trials. Everyone must equally rely on the Lord's grace to confront [this hardship] and triumph over it," said Pastor Gu in his letter. "... Increasingly, we feel God's good intentions in this storm. It will refine every impurity in our ministry team to the greatest extent and compel us to love the Lord and people more purely."

China Aid speculates that Pastor Gu and human rights lawyer Zhang Kai were freed from prison in preparation for President Xi Jinping's upcoming U.S. visit for the Nuclear Security Summit.

Reuters says the crackdown in Christianity is the worst of its kind so far in two decades. In 2015 alone, the Communist Party arrested almost 1,000 human rights activists. This number is almost on par with the number of arrests in the two years before that.