A court in China has sentenced a Protestant pastor to a one-year prison term for organizing a crowd to disrupt the government's campaign to take down crosses at places of worship in Zhejiang province last year.
The Pingyang County Court on March 24 found Pastor Huang Yizi guilty of "gathering a crowd to disturb public order" as authorities took off the cross of the Salvation Church there in July.
Huang had been convicted of forming a small group of Christians who tried to fend off police dismantling the cross at the church as part of a demolition campaign aimed at hundreds of places of worship, reported uncanews.com.
Huang's supporters massed outside the courthouse, frustrated that they could not enter and witness the sentencing of the pastor.
Many of the pastor's followers complained about how authorities kept them out by filling the court with government workers. Only six people from Huang's side managed to get inside the court.
Overseeing the operations of Fenwo Church, Huang was arrested in August, a month after police officers stormed the Salvation Church seen as part of a government's crackdown on Christianity in China.
At the height of the campaign, at least 400 crosses had been removed and some 35 churches destroyed.
A U.S.-based rights group monitoring the plight of Christians in China castigated the ruling on Huang.
"We must appeal, the entire trial is a violation of [legal] procedure," defense lawyer Zhang Kai told US-based Christian rights group China Aid.
Pastor Bob Fu, president of China Aid, said, "Through arbitrary arrests, baseless prosecution and illegal procedures throughout this trial, this case shows once again the worsening situation of religious freedom and rule of law in China.
"We call upon China's higher authorities to overturn this unjust decision and free Pastor Huang immediately."