China bars U.S. evangelical in response to sanctioning of Chinese official

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BEIJING (Reuters) -China said on Wednesday it had blocked an American evangelical leader and businessman and his family from visiting following the U.S. sanctioning of a Chinese official for alleged religious persecution.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry imposed sanctions on Johnnie Moore, a former commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), prohibiting him and his family from entering mainland China or the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau.

Moore is the founder of a U.S. public relations consultancy, according to the website of the USCIRF, which makes policy recommendations to the U.S. government.

Commissioners are appointed by the U.S. president and Congress.

"China urges the U.S. to correct its mistakes, lift the so-called sanctions, and stop interfering in China's internal affairs through so-called religious issues," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, speaking at a regular news conference.

The United States regularly denounces China's treatment of minority Muslim Uyghurs in the farwestern region of Xinjiang. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in January said that China's actions in Xinjiang constitute genocide, a verdict his successor, Antony Blinken, has said he agreed with.

China rejects the claim and says it is countering extremism in Xinjiang.

Moore, a member of the clergy described on his company website as an evangelical leader, tweeted that it was "an honor to be sanctioned by the Chinese Communist Party".

"We will not hand our world to the CCP to victimize the innocent as they please," he said.

Moore added that he had left USCIRF several weeks ago.

Blinken announced earlier in May that he was imposing a visa ban on a former Chinese official, Yu Hui, and his family for Yu's involvement in arbitrary detentions of followers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement.

The U.S. State Department also released a report, an annual update on religious freedom around the world, detailing what it said was China's persecution of religious minorities.

(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Nick Macfie)