A court in China sentenced a Christian pastor on Friday to 12 years in prison in a verdict his supporters are calling "totally unacceptable."
Zhang Shaojie, who led the government-sanctioned Nanle County Christian Church in Henan province, was arrested last year following a land dispute with local authorities.
His lawyer told The Associated Press that local authorities arrested the pastor because he was becoming "too influential" in the community. The official charges were fraud and gathering crowds to disturb public order.
Bob Fu, who heads U.S.-based Christian rights group China Aid, labeled Friday's verdict "religious persecution."
In a written statement reported by AP, Fu said, "This case shows the Chinese government continues to cover up religious persecution with fabricated criminal charges against an innocent church leader.”
Although the Nanle County church has approval, China Aid says other members have been detained.
There are 23 million Christians in China by official estimates.