US to China: Release Pastor from 12-Year Sentence

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The United States is urging China to release a Christian pastor who was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Zhang Shaojie was convicted of fraud and gathering crowds to disturb the public order.

His lawyer, Yang Xingquan, says Zhang was set up and targeted by the authorities.

"In the eyes of the authorities, Christianity is growing too fast there and Pastor Zhang was too influential," Yang said.

Zhang's church has the official sanction from the government allowing them to meet in Henan province, but they've been arguing with local authorities over land for a new building.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki says Zhang was prosecuted in retaliation for peaceful advocacy on behalf of his church, and that China should release the pastor and stop harassing his family and congregants.
    
She also said Chinese officials should "allow citizens to worship freely in accordance with China's own laws and its international human rights commitments."

Bob Fu, president of the U.S.-based Christian rights group China Aid, is calling Zhang's conviction "totally unacceptable."

"This case shows the Chinese government continues to cover up religious persecution with fabricated criminal charges against an innocent church leader," Fu said in an emailed statement.

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