Zhang Chongzhu, the pastor of the state-run Pyongyang Three-Self Patriotic Movement Church in Zhejiang province, China, was released on Monday after eight months in prison for protesting against the government’s forced demolition of Christian crosses and churches.
China Aid reported that Zhang has frequently spoken out against the ongoing persecution of Christians in the country, with hundreds of rooftop crosses and churches being taken down by bulldozing crews at the orders of Communist Party officials. The government has argued that it is targeting places that violate its building codes, deeming rooftop crosses unsafe.
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Zhang was reportedly taken into custody on Sept. 8, 2015, and charged with “stealing, spying, buying, or illegally providing state secrets or intelligence to entities outside China,” which is a common accusation against those who challenge the Communist regime.
Some churchgoers also suggested that Zhang might have been singled out and arrested for meeting with a U.S. diplomat in Shanghai last year.
Although China allows state-run churches to operate, it has not spared even the highest ranking pastors from prison if they speak out against the Communist Party.