Wang Yi, a detained Christian pastor who’s been highly critical of religious persecution in China, was sentenced on Monday to nine years in prison. In December 2018, the leader of Early Rain Covenant Church in China’s Sichuan province was arrested, along with his wife and more than 100 congregants.
A secret trial for Wang was held December 26, reportedly using false testimony extracted from church members through torture. The pastor’s relatives and supporters weren’t allowed to attend. Wang’s wife, Jiang Rong, was released in June after spending six months behind bars. And Early Rain elder Qin Derfu was recently sentenced to four years in prison.
The Charges and Consequences
Pastor Wang, who’s also a lawyer and prominent blogger, was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” (for not registering his church with the government) and “illegal trade” (for printing and selling religious materials). In addition to the nine-year sentence, his political rights are suspended for three years, his books are banned, and his personal assets were confiscated, essentially resulting in a fine of $7,200 U.S. Many Early Rain congregants remain under police surveillance, and church properties have been seized.
Since 2018, China has cracked down on so-called house churches, requiring them to become part of the state-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement. The country’s Communist Party also is conducting a sinicization campaign of Bible translations and using biometrics to track churchgoers.
On the latest World Watch List from Open Doors, China ranks 27th for its persecution of Christians, which has escalated under President Xi Jinping. Chinese villagers are being urged to rely on Xi rather than on Jesus.
On a Facebook page titled Pray for Early Rain Covenant Church, a post insists that Wang “did not commit any crime” but is facing “unjust persecutions.” It requests prayers for the pastor, for Early Rain leaders and members, and even for Chinese authorities. “May we be strong in his grace as we keep on fighting despite repeated setbacks,” it reads. “We do this to fulfill the Great Commission and to spread the gospel, that the glorious name of the triune God might be praised.”
Human-Rights Groups Denounce Sentence
Human-rights groups—both religious and secular—are speaking out against Wang’s sentence and urging U.S. officials to condemn it and take action. “This grave sentence demonstrates [Chinese President] Xi’s regime is determined to be the enemy of universal values and religious freedom,” says China Aid President Bob Fu. “We call upon the international community to stand up to the Chinese Community Party and hold this evil regime accountable.”
Amnesty International calls the sentence “appalling,” saying it “makes a mockery of China’s supposed religious freedoms.” Amnesty’s Patrick Poon adds, “The message is very clear: You will be the next Wang Yi if you don’t register and follow the Communist Party’s line on religion.”
Based on his writings, Pastor Wang intends to stand firm, saying no authorities can make him renounce his faith in Jesus. “I will resist in meekness those who resist God,” he writes, “and I will joyfully violate all laws that violate God’s laws.”