China on Monday sentenced a prominent pastor who operated outside the Communist Party-recognized Protestant organization to nine years in prison.

The People’s Intermediate Court in the southwestern city of Chengdu said Wang Yi was also convicted of illegal business operations, fined and had his personal assets seized.

Wang had led the Early Rain Covenant Church and was arrested a year ago as part of an ongoing crackdown on all unauthorized religious groups in the country. The government requires that Protestants worship only in churches recognized and regulated by the party-led Three-Self Patriotic Movement. A separate body oversees the Catholic Church, and China and the Vatican have no formal relations.

Si Weijiang, a lawyer hired by Wang’s mother, said the charge of illegal business operations stemmed from the printing of books about Christian culture.

“It is actually about the freedom of publication and there has been no social harm,” Si said in a phone interview.

The charge of incitement “involves preaching and is an issue of speech, which has also inflicted no social harm,” he said.

 Even within the narrow confines it has established, China’s officially atheist ruling party has been seeking to rein in religious expression, including removing crosses from official and unofficial churches.
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