A prominent Christian human rights activist in China has been released from jail after serving his four-year sentence for 'gathering a crowd to disturb public order'.
Xu Zhiyong, whose New Citizens' Movement advocated working within the system to press for change, was detained in 2013 and sentenced in 2014. His closing statement to the court, which he was prevented from reading in full, outlined his case and makes reference to his Christian faith: 'Common to all those who identify themselves as citizens are the shared notions of constitutional democracy, of freedom, of equality and justice, of love, and faith.'
Xu's lawyer, Zhang Qingfang, told Reuters he had brought Xu up to speed with 'events on the outside', including the death of fellow activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Liu Xiaobo. He said Xu was 'upset' upon hearing the news.
His release comes as fears grow for the life of Christian pastor Zhang Shaojie who remains in prison.
Shaojie, of Nanle County Christian Church in China's central Henan, was sentenced to 12 years in 2013 for 'gathering a crowd to disrupt the public order'. A fabricated fraud charge was also laid against him.
Pastor Zhang was a leader of the China's official Protestant church, the Three Self Patriotic Movement. He was detained after a property dispute between the church and government. He was also a leader of the official China Christian Council.
He was one of 12 pastors deposed from official Christian leadership positions in China at the time.
According to his sisger, Zhang Cuixia, who met him yesterday, the pastor is 'fragile', China Aid reports. She said he looked 'like a bag of bones'. She asked him if he was being beaten. He replied: 'Do you need to be beaten to become like this?'
She wept as she continued: 'It's painful to see such a good person being persecuted. I don't know how long he can persist.'
According to his daugher, Esther, 'He's unable to see the sun during the day. He's deprived of sleep for 24 hours at a time. The prison gives him only one steamed bun a day and intentionally starves him. According to people who have been released from that prison, my father is barely alive, suffering both mentally and physically.'
Additional reporting by Reuters