Hangzhou pastor Joseph Gu has been arrested for embezzlement a year after he was first detained for the same crime.

His family received an official arrest notice from the Hangzhou Security Bureau on Saturday which said that Gu, who is also known by the Chinese transliteration of his name Gu Yuese, had been arrested on charges of embezzling funds. It said that he was being held at the Hangzhou Municipal Detention Centre.

joseph gu
Joseph Gu. File Photo: Chongyi Church via Stand News.

Gu was detained in January 2015 for embezzlement, and held in secret detention. He was released on bail around two months later, in late March. He was living under police surveillance at home until he was taken into custody again by Hangzhou police sometime before Christmas, according to sources cited by US-based Christian NGO China Aid, which advocates for freedom of religion in China. It is unclear if the two investigations for embezzlement are related.

Gu was the former pastor of the Chongyi Church in Hangzhou, one of the biggest state-sanctioned churches in the country. He is the highest-ranking national church leader arrested since the Cultural Revolution, according to China Aid. He was also formerly the chairman of the local branch of the China Christian Council, a state-run Christian organisation.

chongyi church
Inside the Chongyi Church. Photo: Chongyi Church.

Zhejiang province – which has a large Christian population – was the site of campaigns by authorities to dismantle crosses on top of churches since 2014. Gu spoke out against the campaign before he was accused of embezzlement, according to his followers.

He was dismissed from his post at the Chongyi Church prior to his detention at the beginning of 2016. Before the investigation, he was promoted by the government as “almost a poster boy in the government-established system for showcasing religious freedom in China,” China Aid director Bob Fu told Reuters. The Chongyi Church also voiced its opposition to the cross removals in a statement on its website in 2015, criticising the building rules for interfering with religious freedom.

chongyi church
The Chongyi Church. Photo: Chongyi Church.

Local Christians told US-funded outlet Radio Free Asia that Gu has not returned to work at Chongyi Church since he was released on bail.

China’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but the government keeps tight controls on religious activities and only allows officially-sanctioned groups to operate.

Authorities in Zhejiang have dismantled over 1,200 crosses since the removal campaign began and put around ten clergy members and a Christian lawyer under residential surveillance, according to RFA.

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.