In what some people are calling the most high-profile religious persecution case since the Cultural Revolution, the former pastor of China's largest state-run megachurch was arrested on Saturday by a local public security bureau in China's coastal Zhejiang province, according to persecution watchdog China Aid. Authorities reportedly re-apprehended Gu "Joseph" Yuese sometime before Christmas; on Jan. 7, his family received an announcement he had been arrested on charges of embezzling funds.
As the former chairman of the Hangzhou Municipal China Christian Council, a local branch of the China Christian Council (CCC), which, along with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), comprises China's two government-run Christian organizations, Gu is the highest-profile Christian official to be targeted for quite some time, reports Christian News Wire.
He was formally the senior pastor of Chongyi Church, the largest church associated with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement; a government-run Christian organization, reports Christian Today.
Gu also was a member of the Standing Committee of the national China Christian Council before being removed from the position.
On Jan. 18, 2016, he was ousted from his position as senior pastor of Chongyi Church, China's largest Three-Self Church.
In a document entitled, "Notice Regarding the Personnel Change of the Senior Pastor of Hangzhou's Chongyi Church," the local TSPM and CCC alleged that replacing Gu would help them better manage official churches, improve their relationship with the provincial government, and better circulate prominent Christians who are in charge of churches.
However, Gu publicly opposed the forced demolition of church crosses, causing many Christians to suspect a correlation between his advocacy and dismissal.
On Jan. 28, 2016, officials placed Gu under "residential surveillance in a designated location," otherwise known as a "black jail," and held him incommunicado. Two days later, China Aid learned Gu had been charged with "embezzling 10 million Yuan [U.S. $1.6 million] in funds."
He was released on bail in late March and held under house arrest.
The arrest-related notice read: "Under the approval of the Jianggan District People's Court of Hangzhou, our bureau arrested Gu Yuese, who is suspected of "misappropriation of funds," on Jan. 7, 2017, at 5:00 p.m. He is currently imprisoned at the Hangzhou Municipal Detention Center."
He is being held at the Hangzhou Municipal Detention Center.
Gu is one of several pastors and lawyers who have been detained after protesting or working on behalf of churches demolished under the Chinese government's three-year 'Three Rectifications and One Demolition' campaign, which has resulted in 1,700-plus churches bulldozed or had their crosses removed. The campaign has the aim of exposing and removing "illegal structures," but is widely perceived as a move to combat the increasing influence of Christianity in China, according to Christian Today.