Seven Christians have been detained in Zhejiang, China, on charges lawyers say are trumped up following their refusal to remove a cross from their church building.
Pastor Bao Guohua and Xing Wenxiang, his wife, of the Holy Love Christian Church in the city of Jinhua were detained two weeks ago by Chinese authorities, along with five other church employees. Chinese state media said that they had "conducted illegal business" and embezzled huge sums of money.
The Zhejiang Daily newspaper confirmed that the couple were accused of "deliberately hiding accounts, and on several occasions distorting the truth to incite social unrest among believers".
However, the church's lawyer Chen Jiangang told the BBC that the seven were being punished for refusing to remove the cross from their church building.
"I can tell you that if church leaders had agreed to take down the cross, there would have been no problem. But they refused. That's why they were detained," Chen said.
He told Reuters: "Based on our current understanding of the situation, these charges are false. If they had actively cooperated with the demolition of the church's cross, there would not be any case today." He said that Pastor Bao and his wife had not been able to meet with their lawyers since their detention, which contravenes Chinese law.
The local government in Jinhua has publically denounced Pastor Bao, according to the New York Times. The city's police reportedly released a statement titled 'Honest pastors' greedy lives' saying, "What kind of life is this honest and upright Pastor Bao Guaohua leading?
"With the deepening investigation of this case and Bao Guohua's criminal gang, his carefully adorned garments are being stripped off, layer by layer."
The police claim that they found more than 20 pieces of jewellery and a large sum of money at the Pastor's house.
A crackdown on churches in China has been widely reported over the past year. The majority of those that have had their crosses forcibly removed or that have been torn down completely, numbering more than 1,200 in total, have been in Zhejiang, on the east cost of the country. A significant number were state-sanctioned buildings, including Holy Love.
The crackdown has been protested by Christians in the region, who see it as an attempt by the Communist government (CPC) to increase its control. Church leaders demonstrated in Wenzhou - known as the 'Jerusalem of the East' because of its large Christian population - two weeks ago, claiming that the CPC wanted to turn Christianity "into a tool that serves the party". They compared the demolition campaign to the Cultural Revolution of 1967-1976, when under then-leader Chairman Mao religious persecution significantly intensified.