The United States has called on China to release Pastor Wang Yi, the leader of an unofficial Protestant church who was sentenced to 9 years in prison.
“I am alarmed that Pastor Wang Yi, leader of Chengdu’s Early Rain house church, was tried in secret and sentenced to nine years in prison on trumped-up charges,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter on Tuesday.
“Beijing must release him and end its intensifying repression of Christians and members of all other religious groups,” Pompeo said.
On Monday Wang was sentenced to prison for “incitement to subvert state power.” The charge of inciting subversion has often been used against dissidents as a way to silence criticism of the government and the Communist Party.
Wang was also found guilty of “illegal business operation” by a court in Chengdu, southwest China. Along with the prison sentence, was given a 50,000 yuan ($US7,000) fine.
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus described Wang’s arrest as “yet another example of Beijing’s intensification of repression of Chinese Christians and members of other religious groups.” Ortagus called for his “immediate and unconditional release.”
“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,” she said.
Gina Goh, International Christian Concern’s regional manager for South-East Asia, said the sentence was further proof that the Chinese Government “disregards religious freedom and is paranoid about Christians from house churches”.
“The unfounded accusations against Pastor Wang Yi and the inhumane treatment of his wife and son are pure evil. The international community must rally behind Pastor Wang and condemn China for its ongoing persecution against Christians.”
China Aid reported that Wang and 100 other members of his church were taken into custody on Dec. 9, 2018, after his home was raided and ransacked by police.
China’s officially atheist government is wary of any organised movements outside its own control, including religious ones.
Protestants in the country are split between unofficial “house” or “underground” churches like the Early Rain Covenant Church, and state-sanctioned ones where Communist Party songs also feature in the order of service.
Wang’s church was among a number of prominent “underground” churches shut down by the government in 2018 as part of a crackdown on religion, especially on followers of Islam and Christianity.
Early Rain Covenant Church shared a message from Pastor Wang on Facebook post.