The former senior pastor of China's largest official church has been released from prison after prosecutors dropped corruption charges.
Gu Yuese, who previously served as the senior pastor of Chongyi Church, returned home from prison on December 24, nearly a year following his formal arrest on January 7, 2017.
Chongyi Church, located in downtown of Hangzhou city, is one of the largest churches in Hangzhou area. The church has a new hall, rebuilt in 2003 and completed two years later. It can accommodate 5500 people, by far the world's largest Chinese church. Tap here to see the location of Chongyi Church.
Accused of embezzlement
The former pastor was dismissed from his role as senior pastor of the church in January 2016 after he was accused of misusing funds. He had also been ousted from his role as the chair of the local branch of the China Christian Council (CCC), a state-sanctioned religious organization that monitors registered churches in China.
The CCC, along with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TPSM), contended that Gu's removal was necessary to "move one step closer towards the proper self-construction and management of church locations ... and sort out the interpersonal relationship between the province and the two municipal [Christian] organizations."
Initially detained in 2016
Gu was initially detained on Jan. 27, 2016 after he was charged with "embezzlement of church funds." He was reportedly placed under "residential surveillance in a designated location," otherwise known as a "black jail," and was held incommunicado.
He was later released from detention on bail on March 31 that same year, but he was arrested again on the same charges on January 7.
Opposition to cross demolition
According to China Aid, the charges against Gu came after he publicly opposed a province-wide cross demolition campaign.
After Gu's initial arrest, China Aid president Bob Fu stated that the charges against the former pastor were "political revenge" for his "disloyalty to the Chinese Communist Party's religious policy" by opposing the forced demolition of crosses on church buildings.
"In the past two weeks 18 crosses were removed and destroyed... Overall at least 1,800 crosses of churches were demolished since the campaign started," Fu said at the time.