China: pastor on trial after protesting removal of church crosses

Cross being removed from Yahui Church in Pingyang County, Wenzhou City, China.ICC video screenshot

A Christian pastor has gone on trial in the city of Pingyang in eastern China accused of attempting to disrupt the social order.

Huang Yizi could face up to seven years in jail if he is convicted.

He was arrested following protests against the move by the authorities in Zhejiang province against Christian churches last year. Christianity has grown dramatically in the region, with one city, Wenzhou, being dubbed the 'Jerusalem of the East' because of the number of Christians there.

The authorities tore down around 400 rooftop crosses and demolished churches in a campaign they claimed was against violations of the building codes. However, Christians say that their faith was being deliberately singled out because the local Communist party was unnerved by its success.

Huang gathered a crowd from his congregation at a government building last summer to demand answers about an incident in which police attacked members attempting to prevent the removal of their cross. He also urged other church leaders to put back crosses which had been removed from their buildings.

His lawyer Zhang Kai said that Huang would plead not guilty to the charges.

However, a bishop from the state-sanctioned Catholic Church has recently signalled that the attacks on churches were over following an intervention by the Chinese government. Bishop Paul Meng Qinglu, vice chair of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, said that the order to end the demolition campaign was supposed to have taken effect "early this year". He said he heard about the decision during a religious meeting in Beijing.

Wenzhou was one of the worst affected regions in the demolition campaign. In one case last July, around 1,000 people formed a human blockade to protect Salvation Church from being demolished, and there were reports of beatings from 400-strong police force.