Gu Yuese, the former pastor of China's largest state-run megachurch, has reportedly been re-apprehended and formally arrested on charges of embezzling funds, though persecution watchdog groups say the punishment is about his opposition to the government's removal of church crosses.
China Aid reported that the pastor was taken in by authorities sometime before Christmas, and on Jan. 7 his family received a formal notice for his arrest.
Gu was previously arrested at the beginning of 2016 on the same charges, when government authorities investigated him for corruption. He was released in March on bail, and held under house arrest.
Radio Free Asia reported last year that the pastor never returned to work at Chongyi Church after his release.
As the Hong Kong Free Press and other sources have reported, Gu was targeted by the Communist Party not long after he criticized the ongoing church rooftop crosses demolition campaign, which has seen hundreds of Christians and other pastors arrested as well.
"Gu is the highest-profile Christian official to be targeted since the Cultural Revolution," China Aid stated, noting that the former Chongyi Church pastor also served as the former chairman of the Hangzhou Municipal China Christian Council, a local branch of the China Christian Council.
The Hangzhou Public Security Bureau insisted in a notice that Gu was arrested because he was suspected of committing "misappropriation of funds," and is currently being held at the Hangzhou Municipal Detention Center.
Bob Fu, founder and president of China Aid, told The Christian Post back in February 2016 that Gu's arrest will have far-reaching consequences.
"It will shake the spirit of the government-sanctioned church leaders and the congregations throughout China. All these factors will have a ripple effect," Fu told CP.
He also suggested that the ongoing targeting of Christians is due to their rise in numbers, which is seen as a great threat to the Communist Party.
"The top leadership is very increasingly worried about the rapid growth of Christian faith and their public presence, and their social influence," Fu argued at the time.
"It is a political fear for the Communist Party, as the number of Christians in the country far outnumber the members of the Party," he added.
Another prominent pastor, 39-year old Li Guozhi, also known as Pastor Yang Hua with the Living Stone Church, was sentenced to two an a half years in prison earlier in January after allegedly being tortured into "confessing" to charges related to "divulging state secrets."
Shandong-based lawyer Zhao Yonglin claimed that government officials ordered the pastor to be tortured and verbally abused into a confession last year, though prosecutors denied that Lee was forced.
"This is nothing but purely barbaric religious persecution," Fu commented on Li's sentence. "We urge President [Barack] Obama and President-elect [Donald] Trump to unequivocally condemn this brutal act."