Chinese pastor who protested cross removal formally arrested over embezzlement charges

A Chinese pastor who was previously detained for protesting the state's cross-removal campaign has now been formally arrested over charges of embezzlement.

(WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / Simon Wade)The Gate of Chongyi Christian Church in Hangzhou. 14 August 2013.

On Jan. 7, former Chongyi Church senior pastor Gu "Joseph" Yuese's family received a notice of his arrest for alleged embezzlement. Authorities in Zhejiang province formally arrested him on Saturday, but insiders said authorities had already re-apprehended the megachurch leader before Christmas, China Aid relays.

Pastor Gu's case is reportedly the most high-profile case of religious persecution since the Cultural Revolution. He used to be a Member of the Standing Committee of the national China Christian Council and the chairman of the Hangzhou Municipal CCC, but the council removed him from the two positions.

Many Christians suspect that his dismissal has something to do with his public opposition to the state's campaign to remove church crosses. In January last year, the megachurch leader was placed under "residential surveillance in a designated location" and was charged two days later for allegedly embezzling 10 million Yuan (roughly $1.4 million)  in funds. He was freed on bail in March but has been under house arrest since.

According to critics, the crackdown on Christians and churches indicates the rapid growth of the faith in the country, which is making the ruling Communist Party uneasy. Authorities have been known to target unregistered "house churches" in the ongoing crackdown, but Gu's case shows that event compliant and state-sanctioned groups could still be targeted, The Associated Press said last year.

In the last two years, the local government of Zhejiang has been actively removing and destroying church crosses and other symbols of Christian faith. The authorities say these symbols violate the country's building codes.

China Aid suspects that Gu was released in March without trial because of the approaching U.S.-China meeting at that time. The Texas-based organization said the Chinese government was trying to keep the issue of the pastor's detention from tainting the meeting.