Concerns are growing over the health of the Protestant pastor of the banned Early Rain Covenant Church in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan.
Wang Yi, who founded the church, was detained by police in Sichuan’s provincial capital Chengdu on Dec. 14, 2018 on suspicion of “incitement to subvert state power,” alongside dozens of church members in a raid that prompted an international outcry.
The Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court issued a verdict and sentence after finding him guilty of “incitement to subvert state power” and of “running an illegal business” in a secret trial, jailing him for nine years in December 2019.
Wang’s mother and wife were placed under house arrest and prevented from attending his trial, as were dozens of members of the now-shuttered church that he founded.
“It looks as if Pastor Wang Yi is being treated very badly in prison right now,” Bob Fu, president and founder of the U.S.-based Christian rights group ChinaAid, told RFA in a recent interview.
“It now appears that the state security police have been lying to Wang Yi’s family and the church,” he said. “Pastor Wang Yi is being kept in solitary confinement in [Chengdu’s] Jintang Prison, with two other prisoners guarding him.”
He said the authorities had prevented family members and lawyers from visiting Wang since he was jailed, and now appeared to be withholding medical treatment too, as well as feeding him “moldy rice,” Fu said.
“This is clearly because the authorities want his medical deterioration to continue.”
Overseas news websites have also reported that medical services in Jintang Prison are limited to those provided by other prisoners, and that the drugs given in inmates are expired pharmaceuticals left over from provincial hospitals.
Fu said the authorities could be intentionally destroying Wang’s health, citing the death in prison custody of late Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo in 2017.
Police surround gathering
Meanwhile, police surrounded a gathering of former Early Rain church members in Chengdu last weekend, as they held a memorial service for the father of one member.
Several participants were detained for questioning and released later the same day, a local Protestant church member surnamed Zhou told RFA.
“The family members of a member of the church were having a memorial service,” Zhou said. “After Li Yingqiang and some other brothers and sisters arrived at this member’s home, the local police officers knocked on the door and forcibly took these people to the police station.”
“They were eventually brought back to their homes a few hours later by police from the stations near their homes,” he said.
Fellow Protestant Qiu Xuan said the police hadn’t produced a warrant or any form of documentation, saying they were allowed to issue summonses at will.
“Another incident also happened that day, when police placed [Early Rain church member] Wu Wuqing under house arrest for two weeks, locking the fire exit and trapping his [family] inside,” Qiu said.
Control of religion criticized
Wang Yi’s jailing came after he published an essay critical of the government’s tight control over religion, and calling on China’s Christians to resist and peacefully disobey new rules issued by the ruling Chinese Communist Party severely restricting the activities of religious organizations.
Wang, 48, founded the Early Rain Covenant church in 2008 after several years of political activism that saw him named as “one of the most influential public intellectuals” by the Southern Weekend newspaper in 2004.
A graduate of the Sichuan University Law School, Wang went on to teach at Chengdu University. He also founded an online forum to study progress in China towards constitutional government.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party, which embraces atheism, exercises tight controls over any form of religious practice among its citizens.
China is home to an estimated 68 million Protestants, of whom 23 million worship in state-affiliated churches, and some nine million Catholics, 5.7 million of whom are in state-sponsored organizations.
The administration of President Xi Jinping regards Christianity as a dangerous foreign import, with officials warning last year against the “infiltration of Western hostile forces” in the form of religion.