Christian group says China charges pastor with embezzling

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A pastor in a Chinese province where authorities have been cracking down on churches has been charged with embezzling funds, a Christian rights group said.

China's state-sanctioned Protestant church body announced a week earlier than Gu Yuese was under investigation for suspected misappropriation of funds and other unspecified economic crimes.

U.S.-based Christian rights group ChinaAid said in an email that Gu was formally arrested and charged Saturday by prosecutors in Hangzhou city in Zhejiang province. He has been in detention since Jan. 28.

Its founder Bob Fu blamed Chinese authorities for engaging in "political retribution" for Gu's public opposition to a campaign by officials in Zhejiang to forcibly remove hundreds of rooftop crosses from churches.

ChinaAid said that in letters to his lawyers, Gu had urged the congregation at the Chongyi Christian Church where he was senior pastor to support his government-appointed replacement, Zhang Zhongcheng, and to remain calm by not "rallying around" for his case.

Fu said the statement made him concerned that Gu was under "enormous pressure."

Calls to the Zhejiang provincial branch of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement were not answered Sunday, and a person answering the phone at Hangzhou prosecutors office had no information about the case.

For two years, the Zhejiang government in eastern China has been removing church crosses and other outward symbols of the Christian faith. They have said the crosses violate building codes, but critics say the rapid growth of Christian groups have made the ruling Communist Party nervous.

While authorities have long targeted unsanctioned "house churches," the current crackdown is remarkable because it involves members of the usually compliant official religious bodies.