China Aid is calling for the release of a North Carolina pastor who has been imprisoned in China for one year on what the persecution watchdog calls a "trumped up charge."
Earlier this month, China Aid launched petition on the We the People website in support of John Cao, who was sentenced to seven years in prison and fined a hefty charge after he allegedly "organized an illegal border crossing."
"While working to build schools for impoverished children in Myanmar, John was detained at the Chinese border on March 5, 2017. Twenty days later, he was charged with 'organizing illegal border crossing,' despite the fact that he had used the same route between China and Myanmar for this humanitarian work for years," explains in the petition ChinaAid, the watchdog group.
"In three years, John helped build 16 schools that serve more than 2,000 children. He was unfairly sentenced to seven years in a Chinese prison."
The petition urges the White House to "pressure the Communist Party to unconditionally release Pastor John Cao and allow him to return home to America to see his wife and sons again."
Cao's problems with Chinese authorities began last year as government scrutiny against Christians intensified. Prior to his arrest, police closed local Chinese Bible schools, questioned his co-workers, and forbade him from speaking at a conference in Hong Kong.
Cao has held U.S. permanent residency since 1990 but kept his Chinese citizenship so that he could continue entering China for his mission work. He pastored a church in Greensboro, N.C. and is married to an American citizen. Cao and his wife have two sons, who still reside in the United States.
Jamie Powell, Coa's wife, recently spoke at the State Department's first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C.
"It appears to me that John was set up for his arrest because of his faith-driven work," Powell said at the ministerial.
"Since his detainment, my husband has suffered a rapid decline in his health. He has lost 50 pounds. He has not been able to communicate with me and my children. My sons and I traveled there - 10,000 miles - and we were not allowed to see him," she added.
"The seven years he has unjustly received now becomes a matter of health and survival."
Last year, China Aid president Bob Fu expressed a belief that U.S. President Donald Trump should "loudly urge China to free [Cao]. It will set a bad precedent if China is allowed to deal with Pastor John in this way when he should be awarded for his work," he said.
He warned that in recent years, China has already become an "uncontrollable dragon," and under Chinese President Xi Jinping, the country increasingly resembles the police state in North Korea.
So far, China Aid's petition has 5, 444 signatures. It still needs 100,000 in total by Sept. 1 to get a response from the White House.