A Protestant preacher who spoke out against an “anti-church” demolition campaign in Zhejiang province was sentenced to a year in jail for “gathering crowds to disturb social order” in a trial which his supporters said had been “manipulated”.
Huang Yizi, 40, was arrested in Wenzhou, Zhejiang at the end of August and sentenced on Tuesday afternoon at a Pingyang County court as around 1,000 Christian supporters were gathered outside.
Zhang Kai, Huang’s lawyer, told the Telegraph that he thought “the whole trial was manipulated by the authorities”.
Huang had publicly opposed a demolition campaign targeting Christian churches, which, in a year’s time, had affected at least 400 places of worship.
Shanghaiist covered a case from April last year which saw hundreds of local residents and religious leaders camped outside of a Wenzhou church for days after Communist Party officials threatened to demolish it. Officials had claimed that the churches were “structurally unsound,” but the Christian community suggested that the campaign was meant to curb the spread of Christianity in China.
In July, more than a dozen Christian protestors at Wenzhou’s Salvation Church were hospitalized after police armed with batons reportedly forced their way through the crowds.
“The culprit who hit people until they were seriously wounded is still at large while Pastor Huang—who seeks justice—is sentenced to prison. There is no justice,” one elderly Christian said outside of the courtroom during Huang’s trial, according to UCA News.
“Those who created false cases must be held accountable. This is the common aspiration of the million faithful in Wenzhou.”
Huang, who has a wife and young child, previously told the Telegraph he was “grateful that God has given him the chance” to go to prison for protesting the campaign.
China, officially an atheist country, is expected to have a Christian population exceeding 247 million within the next 15 years. Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, known as “China’s Jerusalem”, is home to the country’s largest Christian community.
Bishop Paul Meng Qinglu, the deputy chairman of the Communist Party-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, said that an “internal order” had been issued to “stop the demolition” of churches.