China has jailed the pastor of a well-known underground Protestant church on charges of inciting subversion of a state power.
Wang Yi, who leads the Early Rain Covenant Church, was handed a nine-year sentence.
Although China’s constitution guarantees religious freedom, the Communist Party has long-standing tensions with religious groups which it sees as a threat to its authority.
The government has been clamping down on “house” churches – places of worship that do not register and submit to government oversight as required by law – such as that run by Mr Wang.
“Today’s verdict makes a mockery of China’s supposed religious freedoms,” Patrick Poon, an Amnesty International China researcher, said.
“Wang Yi was merely practising his religion and peacefully standing up for human rights in China.” He called the nine-year sentence “appalling” and “unjust”.
Mr Wang is an unusually outspoken religious figure and has openly criticised Xi Jingping, China’s president as he once wrote in an essay before his detention that Communist Party ideology was “morally incompatible with the Christian faith”.
He was arrested in December along with his wife and other members of his church, although most have now been released.
Mr Wang’s sentencing was announced in a brief statement on the website of the Sichuan province’s Chengdu court, which said he had been charged with illegally operating a business. He was also deprived of his political rights for three years and 50,000 yuan (£5,500) of his personal property was confiscated as part of his sentencing, the court said.
Last year, authorities in China blew up a notable underground Christian church with dynamite and cracked down on online Bible sales.
China has also been condemned by a collection of UN nations for its treatment of Uighur Muslims, who have been detained and had their religious freedoms curbed in the country’s Xinjiang province.
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