WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of State has issued a statement condemning the conviction and sentencing of Early Rain Covenant Church pastor Wang Yi, who was tried in secret in China on Dec. 26 and sentenced to nine years in prison days later for “inciting subversion of state power” and so-called “illegal business activities.”
“We are alarmed that Pastor Wang Yi, leader of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, was tried in secret and sentenced to nine years in prison in connection to his peaceful advocacy for religious freedom. We call for his immediate and unconditional release,” it wrote on Tuesday.
As previously reported, Yi was arrested in Dec. 2018 and his church was shut down because it was “unauthorized,” that is, unregistered with the Chinese government/Three-Self Church. Approximately 150 members were detained as well.
According to the organization China Aid, churches in China who wish to gather for worship must register with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, the only officially authorized Protestant Church in China, and even then, they are only allowed to hold gatherings in buildings that are operated by the government.
“Because most of these churches are instructed to teach loyalty to the Communist Party and the Chinese State and often teach propaganda over the actual tenets of these faiths, many faithful religious adherents choose to meet outside of the official religious system, in groups known as house churches or underground churches,” China Aid explains.
However, it is illegal to operate a church outside of registering with the Three-Self Movement, and those that do so are often subject to detainment, arrest or imprisonment. Enforcement varies from province to province.
The following Sunday after Yi’s arrest, those who were free sought to meet at the church, but police surrounded the building so that none could enter. Dozens of members therefore went to an area park to worship the Lord together, but police took away those leading the gathering.
Yi had written a declaration in Sept. 2018, knowing that it was possible that he could be arrested for holding gatherings not authorized by the Chinese government. He instructed the church to make his writings public should he be detained more than 48 hours.
“Those who lock me up will one day be locked up by angels. Those who interrogate me will finally be questioned and judged by Christ,” Yi wrote. “When I think of this, the Lord fills me with a natural compassion and grief toward those who are attempting to and actively imprisoning me. Pray that the Lord would use me, that He would grant me patience and wisdom, that I might take the gospel to them.”
The pastor had likewise preached a number of sermons expressing that the state is not God and that the Church must honor its persecuted. Those messages are still posted online.
Yi’s wife was released from police custody in June, but remains under house arrest with the couple’s 12-year-old son. In November, elder Qin Derfu was sentenced to four years in prison for engaging in “illegal business operations.”
“The prosecutor accused Qin Derfu of running an illegal business, and the lawyer defended for his innocence. Qin Derfu also testified that it is not a crime to have faith. We pray and look up to God for the result — justice is in His hand,” his wife, Xiao Hongliu, wrote following the trial, according to Church in Chains.
Reports state that the illegal business operations charge pertains to printing Christian material. Yi was also convicted of this count, in addition to “inciting subversion of state power.”
“This is yet another example of Beijing’s intensification of repression of Chinese Christians and members of other religious groups,” the US Department of State said in a statement. “We continue to call on Beijing to uphold its international commitments and promises made in its own constitution to promote religious freedom for all individuals, including members of ethnic and religious minorities and those who worship outside of official state-sanctioned institutions.”