(Hangzhou, Zhejiang—Feb. 6, 2016) Authorities in China’s coastal Zhejiang formally arrested a pastor who served at China’s largest government-sanctioned church and as the chairman of the provincial China Christian Council (CCC) at 5 p.m. (China Standard Time) today.
Pastor Gu “Joseph” Yuese was formally arrested today after being removed from his position as the senior pastor of Hangzhou’s Chongyi Church, China’s largest Three-Self Patriotic Movement Church, on Jan. 18.
On Jan. 28, Gu was taken into custody and placed under “residential surveillance at a designated location.” Gu’s wife was also detained and threatened to not leave the country; she has since been released.
Gu is currently being held at the Hangzhou Detention Center for the charge of “embezzling funds,” according to a notice from the Hangzhou Municipal Procuratorate received by Gu’s family. Gu’s troubles are suspected of being a result of his opposition to the persecution campaign that has resulted in the demolition of thousands of church crosses in Zhejiang.
Gu also released a statement via his lawyers, He Xiangyang and Xie Bingbing, that appears to have been orchestrated by the government as a form of “social stability maintenance.” The statement, dated Feb. 4, is formatted as a question-and-answer session between Gu and his lawyers.
In the statement, Gu addresses the congregation of Chongyi Church, calling upon them to pray, obey the teachings of the Bible, and support Pastor Zhang Zhongcheng, whom the government appointed to lead Chongyi Church after removing Gu.
Gu also said in the statement that he is cooperating with the government investigation and urged the congregation to remain calm by not “rallying around” his case.
“After this subtle statement, I am deeply concerned that Pastor Gu is under enormous pressure,” Bob Fu, president and founder of China Aid said. “The world knows very well that this is a case of political retribution by the Chinese authorities for Pastor Gu’s public opposition of the barbaric, ongoing cross removal campaign. Instead of criminalizing a defender of religious freedom, like Pastor Gu, the Chinese authorities should take concrete action and hold those abusive individuals responsible for these brutal crackdowns accountable.”