PU’ER — A court in China has upheld a sentence against an American pastor who is currently serving seven years behind bars on a charge of “organizing illegal border crossings,” which some believe is a clever way to prosecute the pastor for his faith.
The Pu’er Intermediate People’s Court in Yunnan Province reaffirmed the sentence against John Cao of North Carolina on Thursday after his appeal hearing was postponed seven times.
According to the U.S.-based China persecution watch group ChinaAid, Cao has provided humanitarian aid to China and Myanmar for years, and has helped to build 16 schools that care for an estimated 2,000 impoverished children in Myanmar. He and his co-laborer, Jing Ruxia, would at times cross from Myanmar into China — and would do so for several years without issue.
But in March 2017, Cao was arrested by Yunnan Public Security upon arrival into China via ferry and charged with “organizing illegal border crossings,” which is customarily used against those engaged in human trafficking. He went on trial in February 2018 and was sentenced to seven years behind bars and the equivalent of a $3,000 fine.
According to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), Cao was placed in a small prison cell with more than a dozen other prisoners, and they all had to share a 26 foot slab as a bed. He also was not able to have any contact with his family, and lost at least 50 pounds.
“Like Paul, I have learned how to live a rich life and how to live a simple life. Now I live a free life even though I am without freedom,” Cao wrote in one update. “I believe that for the Lord Jesus, we are willing to freely choose to lose our freedom. We will all happily choose to lose the happiness of the world. As long as the name of the Lord can be proclaimed, the bitterness of the flesh and blood is not worth mentioning.”
Cao sought to appeal his sentence, but on Thursday, the Pu’er Intermediate People’s Court upheld the lower court ruling. According to reports, no hearing was held, but simply a “trial session on paper only” and an announcement that the sentence was affirmed.
“Even though it was a public announcement, the court did not allow any of Pastor Cao’s friends or family, except his mother and sister, to sit in the courtroom,” the ACLJ outlines. “During the public announcement, the outside of the courthouse was heavily guarded by police officers, which is highly unusual. Furthermore, the U.S. consulate officers’ repeated requests to attend the announcement were denied.”
“The unjust trial and trumped up charges against Pastor John Cao once again demonstrate the disregard for rule of law and religious freedom in China,” Gina Goh of International Christian Concern said in a statement. “Beijing’s crackdown against Christianity should not be tolerated or ignored. The international community must continue speaking out for oppressed churches and Christians in order to stop their suffering.”
Cao’s wife, Jamie Powell, and two sons, Benjamin and Amos, live in North Carolina. He is a permanent resident of the United States but holds Chinese citizenship in order to retain ease of travel.