China releases pastor who protested removal of crosses from church buildings

A pastor who protested against the Chinese government's cross demolition campaign was released Monday, May 9.

A local resident rides a bicycle past a church in Xiaoshan, a commercial suburb of Hangzhou, the capital of China's east Zhejiang province December 21, 2006. | Reuters/Lang Lang

Zhang Chongzhu, who pastored the Pyongyang Three-Self Patriotic Movement Church in Zhejiang, had been detained since August 2015. He made a lot of noise last year when the government notified Zhejiang churches that the crosses on their buildings would be removed.

He sent word outside China about the government's new campaign and invited them to "stand in a circle and watch" as the crosses are demolished in the Chinese province.

Speaking at a radio station interview, Zhang Chongzhu said the noise he made was the only solution he could think of in order to find support from outside China and cause the authorities to check their actions.

However, his bold opposition to the cross demolition campaign led to his arrest in August. On Sept. 9, he was put under residential surveillance. In China, residential surveillance is carried out in two ways: in the suspect's home, or in a place designated by the authorities. The latter is usually imposed if doing the surveillance at the suspect's home "may impede the investigation," according to China Change.

In March, Zhang Chongzhu's wife spoke at a radio station and said that her husband had been formally arrested March 9 on charges of "stealing, spying, buying or illegally providing state secrets for institutions and people outside the country."

Before he was arrested, Zhang Chongzhu was set to meet with David Saperstein, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom. He was to meet Saperstein together with human rights lawyer Zhang Kai, who represented churches suffering persecution from the cross demolition campaign.

Local church members believe the scheduled dialogue with the U.S. ambassador could have been the real reason for Zhang Chongzhu's arrest, according to organization China Aid, which advocates for religious freedom in the country.