US urges China to release Christian pastor from 12-year prison sentence

STATE DEPARTMENT (AP) — The U.S. is expressing "deep concern" at reports that the pastor of a church in central China was sentenced to 12 years in prison for what supporters say is a government crackdown on fast-growing Christian churches.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki (SAH'-kee) says China should release Zhang Shaojie (zhahng show-JAY') and stop harassing his family members and congregants.

The pastor's lawyer says Zhang, whose church has been in a dispute with authorities over land for a new building, was convicted of fraud and of gathering crowds to disturb public order.

But Psaki says reports suggest Zhang was prosecuted in retaliation for "peaceful advocacy on behalf of his church community"

She said Chinese officials should "allow citizens to worship freely in accordance with China's own laws and its international human rights commitments."

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