04/05/2016, 17.25
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Anti-cross demolition fighter Rev Gu Yuese released

The clergyman heads the Chongyi Church, China’s largest official Protestant group with about 10,000 members. Arrested on charges of "embezzlement", he was held in a secret place for three months. Over the past two years, he has openly slammed a campaign by the authorities against Christian symbols.

Hangzhou (AsiaNews) – Chinese authorities have released a clergyman who publicly opposed the removal of crosses from church buildings in China. He had been in detention for three months.

Rev Gu Yuese, also known as Joseph Gu, heads the Chongyi Church, the largest Protestant congregation in the country with about 10,000 members.

Police arrested him on 1 February on embezzlement charges, but failed to provide details about the affair.

Before his arrest, the pastor had issued an open letter to his congregation. In it, he wrote, “rare freezing, cold will befall Hangzhou", the provincial capital of Zhejiang province. He was referring to the appalling two-year, province-wide campaign to tear down and remove crosses from churches. In all, some 2,000 religious symbols have been destroyed since the campaign started.

As the latter unfolded, Rev Gu forcefully and publicly criticised the authorities’ actions. In May 2015, the local Church issued a statement opposing new regulations on religious buildings and the removal of religious symbols.  

The following July, the reverend signed an open letter to the Zhejiang Religious Affairs Bureau issued by the official Church. Meanwhile, the Church’s own website, which carried the clergyman’s statement, was blocked.

On 18 January of this year, the clergyman was removed from his post; nine days later, he and his wife Zhou Lianmei went missing. Two days after that, Church officials announced that he was “cooperating with the police" concerning his alleged embezzlement of Church funds.

The Chongyi Church also received a formal notification from the police, saying that the clergyman was under guard at a certain location.

Rev Gu’s sudden dismissal without due process by the authorities has left the community in shock.

In his open letter, the reverend (and his wife) had warned, “Soon, a rare freezing, cold will befall Hangzhou; please, everyone must rely on the Lord’s grace to be healthy. Chongyi Church is also experiencing unprecedented, chilling trials.”

Not since Mao Zedong’s rule and the Cultural Revolution had such a high-ranking member of the official Protestant clergy been arrested.

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