After nearly eight months, China has released from prison pastor Zhang Chongzhu, who was arrested for protesting against the government's demolition campaign against Christian crosses and churches.
According to China Aid, Zhang, the pastor of the state-run Pyongyang Three-Self Patriotic Movement Church in Zhejiang province, was charged with "stealing, spying, buying, or illegally providing state secrets or intelligence to entities outside China" back in September after he spoke out against the ongoing persecution of Christians in the country.
For several months, Zhang remained under residential surveillance at an unknown location, prompting members of the pastor's church to suggest he may have been singled out and arrested for meeting with a U.S. diplomat David Saperstein in Shanghai last year.
At the time, his wife dismissed the allegations against her husband as "ridiculous." "I think this is too ridiculous for words," she said. "But we are powerless to do anything; we can't sue the government," she said. "All we can do is pray."
Zhang is among hundreds detained in China's ongoing crackdown on Christians leaders who have fought the Communist government's efforts to remove crosses from church rooftops and reduce the presence of churches in the area. Over 500 protesters have been detained over the last year, and a number of individuals, many of them pastors, remain in police custody.
Thus far, more than 1,200 crosses have been removed, and several churches have been completely demolished by government forces in the Zhejiang province, which is commonly referred to as "China's Jerusalem" due to its large Christian population.
The government has also brought formal charges against nearly 20 human rights lawyers who spoke out against the demolitions in the province, and authorities have broadcast coerced "confessions" from several of them.
China is officially atheist but constitutionally guarantees religious freedom. However, the country's government has exhibited a growing discomfort with Christianity, whose followers are said to rival in number the 86 million members of the Communist Party. Because of this, Open Doors USA has placed the country at 33rd on its World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution.
In April, retired Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong called on Beijing to end the persecution of Christians and allow religious freedom, insisting that those who keep silent about such matters are guilty of being "accomplices."
"Facing all this persecution, we cannot take it for granted. We cannot stand idly. If we keep silent, we are accomplices," he said.