A Chinese pastor has been sentenced to a year in prison for his involvement in a protest against the removal of a cross from a church in Zhejiang province.
Huang Yizi, who leads Fengwo Church in Wenzhou, was sentenced by the People's Court in Pingyang County on Tuesday. His lawyer said he would launch an appeal.
Pastor Huang was first arrested on 2 August 2014, just over a week after an attack on Wenzhou's Sjuitou Salvation Church. The police had attempted to remove a cross from its roof, resulting in a bloody clash with members who were guarding the building.
Officers reportedly used iron batons to beat those who stood in their way, and one member of the congregation suffered a fractured skull. The cross was eventually removed from the church building.
Huang then gathered a crowd from his congregation at a government building to demand answers about the incident. He also urged other church leaders to put back crosses which had been removed from their buildings and criticised police violence on his blog. He branded the removal of church crosses an example of "severe persecution" and an "insult" to China's Christians.
He was arrested for "gathering to assault a state organ", and could have faced up to seven years in prison.
According to advocacy organisation China Aid, more than 500 Christians stood outside the court on Tuesday in solidarity with Pastor Huang. China Aid founder and president Bob Fu has criticised the verdict, and called for Huang's release.
"China Aid condemns this new case of religious persecution against an innocent pastor," Fu said.
"Through arbitrary arrest, baseless prosecution, and illegal procedures throughout the trial, this case shows once again the worsening situation of religious freedom and rule of law in China. We call upon China's higher authorities to overturn this unjust decision and free Pastor Huang immediately."
Christianity has grown dramatically in Zhejiang province, and Wenzhou is known as the 'Jerusalem of the East' because of its large Christian population. The recent crackdown on churches has led many to believe that the government is specifically targeting Christians in a bid to retain control. Estimates vary, but more than 300 churches are thought to have been demolished, while many others have had crosses removed.