ucanews.com reporter, Hong KongUpdated: September 21, 2017 09:56 AM GMT
Father Fei Jisheng from Liaoning Diocese in northeast China has been sentenced to 18-months in prison. (Photo supplied)
Supporters of a government approved priest in northeast China who was sentenced to 18-months jail for stealing money from a church-run retirement home say he was framed because of his evangelization work.
Father Fei Jisheng from Liaoning Diocese in northeast China was sentenced by a court in the city of Gaizhou along with layman He Xianmin who was given one year probation.
Both men have been ordered to compensate the Catholic Church in Gaizhou with 121,200 yuan (US$18,435) believed to be the amount of charity money that the court said they stole.
A source close to Father Fei told ucanews.com that local Catholics and clergy believe the priest and the layman where framed by security officials.
They say Father Fei ran a successful evangelization program called the Apostolic Class that was not approved by the government and that is why he was targeted by the state. The program started in 2007 and spread across China. It is particularly active in northeastern Liaoning and Hebei provinces.
The source said Bishop Pei Junmin of Liaoning tried communicating with the provincial religious affairs bureau and the United Front Work Department over the case but had little success with both official bodies.
"The two departments pushed the case back and forth each other, talking evasively and denying they have any knowledge about the case," said the source.
The priest's case was deemed sensitive by the authorities and no details have been allowed to be made public. Father Fei was not allowed to see friends or family while he was detained.
Father Fei's family were not able to attend any of his three court hearings which were held behind closed doors.
The priest's situation was closely followed by local Catholics and clergy. At one of the hearings they were in close proximity to the well-guarded court in support of Father Fei.
"The Catholics had been standing quietly at a place far from the court building to pray and recite the rosary for the priest," said the source.
Police officers arrested Father Fei while he was visiting a nun's convent in Fushun city in Liaoning on Oct. 18, 2016.
Father Fei was abducted briefly by authorities in November 2015 for unclear reasons. On June 6, 2016, he was also detained with four others who made cross-border evangelization work outside his own diocese, something also not allowed under law. He was released a month later.