China’s government imprisoned a Christian minister on false charges of organizing illegal border crossings as the pastor provided humanitarian aid to an impoverished ethnic group along the border between southern China and Burma, according to the lawyer for the American missionary.

Li Guisheng, who represents Pastor John Cao, said the permanent U.S. resident from North Carolina was sentenced to seven years in prison in China earlier this year on charges he organized illegal border crossings from China into the ethnic enclave in Burma known as the autonomous Wa State.

China has been seeking to influence the Wa State for years. The state was formed in 1989 after the Communist Party of Burma collapsed and split into ethnic armies, including the United Wa State Army, which has 30,000 troops.

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