China’s Christian Prisoners

The overwhelming attention on China for the novel coronavirus has overshadowed another chilling phenomenon in a country that is home to about 40 million Christians.

China is driven by the principles of nationalism and Communism. Much to the dismay of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders, the implementation of these views have not quelled the proliferation of Christianity among its people.

China’s Constitution recognizes the freedom of religion or belief, but the CCP frequently drafts legislation that curtails these rights.

Embedded in China’s criminal law is a vague reference to the illegality of “cult organizations”. The 2016 Counterterrorism law similarly prohibits “religious extremism.”

In 2018, the Regulations on Religious Affairs placed heavy restrictions on unregistered religious groups: steep fines, shutting down informal churches and worship sites, and arrests are the primary legal repercussions for violating the meticulous plan drafted by the state to maintain an unrelenting grip on the nation’s religious beliefs.

To complement these violations of religious freedom, security officials are enforcing legislation far beyond the limits of humanity and justice. Christians have been ambushed, uprooted from their homes and communities, and forced into detention for years without access to legal counsel and family members.

Pastor Wang Yi is a fearless advocate for the fundamental rights and freedoms of Chinese citizens. Prior to becoming a Christian in the early 2000s, he was a world-renowned civil rights lawyer, author, and leading professor.

In 2005, Wang Yi was baptized and subsequently started a church in his home. By 2008, Pastor Wang Yi left his profession and became the first pastor of Early Rain Covenant Church.

The fellowship remained relatively unbothered until China launched a crackdown on unregistered churches in late 2018. On December 9, Pastor Wang Yi was arrested along with his wife and around 150 members of his congregation.

While the members were eventually released, Pastor Wang Yi was condemned for his leadership of the church and charged with “inciting subversion of state power” and “illegal business activity.”

Pastor Wang Yi was sentenced to nine years in prison. His wife – who was released within six months of her arrest – is raising the couple’s young son while her husband remains behind bars for no crime other than sharing the Word of God.

While Pastor Wang Yi’s story acts as the leading testament to China’s relentless infringement on its citizens’ religious freedom, he is not the only one. Another at the forefront of the Christian crisis in China is Pastor John Cao.

Pastor Cao became a Christian in his twenties after meeting an American Christian family. His life took a new and altruistic course. With a degree in English from a university in Hunan, China, Pastor Cao finished his education in New York with a Masters of Divinity before moving to North Carolina to become a pastor.

Pastor Cao’s passion drew him back to China where he built schools across the southern portion of the nation. Eventually his work expanded to adjacent Wa State in Myanmar, where he served ethnic minorities by building sixteen schools serving 2,000 children, establishing projects to help the poor, and disseminating Bibles.

For a few years, Pastor Cao developed his mission work, making multiple trips between Myanmar and China before being detained on March 5, 2017. In one last selfless act prior to his arrest, Cao disposed of his cellphone to prevent the authorities from obtaining the contacts of Christian missionary colleagues who would have likely faced a similar fate if they had been apprehended in conjunction with Pastor Cao’s arrest.

Pastor Cao was charged with “organizing illegal border crossings” and sentenced to seven years in prison – a charge that has only been applied in cases of transnational human trafficking.

While the charges placed upon Pastor Cao make no mention of his religious activity, it is believed he was targeted and detained specifically as retribution for his missionary work.

Pastor Cao has not seen his family since his arrest, as he is not permitted family visits by the Menglian Detention Center. According to the European Centre for Law & Justice, he has also been denied medical and nutritional care. In July 2019, “the court simply made a public announcement of its decision to uphold the trial court’s decision without holding an appeal hearing, as required by law.”

China continues to go to extreme lengths to persecute the robust Church in China, violating not only international norms of human rights and religious freedom but also its own laws on legal procedures and due process in order to unjustly incarcerate religious leaders with long sentences.

Pastor Wang’s and Pastor Cao’s cases exhibit a trend of betraying citizens’ rights to religious freedom to work towards the complete erasure of Christianity in China.

This campaign of discrimination is likely to continue and expand. Yet our brothers and sisters in China remain fearless, devout, and unrelenting in their worship and devotion to the Lord.

They deserve our prayer and advocacy across the world on their behalf.