As part of a major crackdown on Christian churches and human rights groups, Chinese authorities have jailed prominent Christian church leader Hu Shigen, sentencing him to seven and a half years in prison.
According to Chinese state media, Hu pleaded guilty to “damaging national security and harming social stability” on Wednesday, though observers claim that the trial has “almost zero credibility.”
An elder of an “unregistered” Protestant church in Beijing, Hu is to be deprived of political rights for five years, along with his prison sentence. In a trial that lasted several hours, Hu allegedly confessed to being deeply connected to “foreign anti-China forces.” Hu’s friends said his confession was probably coerced.
Xinhua, the state-run news agency, reported that Hu had used unauthorized religious groups to “spread subversive thoughts and ideas.”
According to the UK Foreign Office, unapproved Christian churches are facing a period of “sustained pressure” from Beijing.
In 2014, the government began an operation to remove or demolish crosses placed atop Christian churches throughout the country, euphemistically titled a “beautification” program.
The focus of the campaign has been the city of Wenzhou, in the Zhejiang province, where authorities have already removed more than 2,000 church crosses in the Communist Party’s crusade to eradicate the iconic Christian symbol from China’s landscape.
The religious freedom group China Aid reported in the spring that government officials had been coming out in large numbers to put down protesters of the cross removal program, armed with riot gear and prepared to use force. Law enforcement personnel demolished a number of church crosses at the time, beating protesters bloody.
In July, China’s Communist party issued an ultimatum to parents that if children do not stop attending church, they will be barred from attending college or entering the military.
A local government office in the central Guizhou province sent a notice to all of the schools in the local area announcing the decision, in an effort to discourage citizens from attending independent house churches and to switch to a church under government control.
Hu is not the only one to face the wrath of the Communist government. On Monday, rights activist Zhai Yamin was given a suspended three-year prison sentence, having also allegedly confessed to “subversion.” The day before, Wang Yu, a lawyer in the Fengrui firm, appeared in a videotaped interview, accusing “foreign forces” of influencing the firm’s activities.
Chinese authorities have detained hundreds of lawyers and activists over the past year, accusing many of them of conspiring against the ruling party.
“The message is clear: The government wants to show that it does not tolerate any dissent,” said Patrick Poon, a China researcher for Amnesty International based in Hong Kong.
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