(Linfen, Shanxi province) Yesterday, Linfen Covenant House Church and its defense lawyers posted an announcement to sue local law enforcement and request to hold a public hearing on the necessity of the arrest. Li Jie’s lawyer also met with him, bringing updates from the detention center.
Linfen Covenant House Church was persecuted for refusing to join the government-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) church. During an outdoor family camp held by the house church on August 19, 2022, police raided the event and arrested many members. Then, authorities arrested Pastor Li Jie, Pastor Han Xiaodong, and co-worker Wang Qiang on suspicion of “fraud.” All three were held in residential surveillance at a designated location (RSDL), enduring torture as the police tried to coerce false confessions. Authorities transferred them to the detention center afterward.
Yaodu District People’s Procuratorate returned the case for supplementary investigation. On March 26, 2023, the case was transferred to Linfen City People’s Procuratorate for prosecution.
Photo: Lie Jie of Linfen Covenant Church (ChinaAid source)
Visit with Pastor Li Jie
On April 14, 2023, lawyer Fang met with Li Jie at Yaodu District Detention Center. The visitation went smoothly. Li Jie seemed to be in good condition, and very happy to meet with his lawyer. He admitted that sometimes he felt weak, thinking about compromising in exchange for a shorter sentence.
A worried father
Pastor Li Jie worries for his children because he grew up in a single-parent family. If he were to be sentenced to 10 years, he would be completely absent from his children’s childhood. He felt despair when this thought came to his mind. However, he said God knows his weakness, so God sent many people to help him. Some prison roommates even share food with him. Life in prison was like living in the wilderness. There is nothing he could do except to solely rely on God.
Relationships with his cellmates
According to Li Jie, getting along with his cellmates proved to be a true challenge. They often ask very specific and tough questions. For example, a roommate asked: ”I follow my gang group leader. When I’m in trouble, my leader will definitely come to save me. Where is your God? Why your God hasn’t saved you? Why you are still here?” Li Jie did not refute his questions. This reminded him of the moment when Jesus was crucified. People mocked him for not being able to get off the cross. Sometimes, according to Li Jie, silence is also a way to express love. It may only make them dislike the gospel more if he won the argument.
Reading in prison
Li said he read a lot of law books when he was first imprisoned in the detention center, but he couldn’t find peace in his heart. Then the Holy Spirit reminded him. This is not just a problem pertaining to rule of law, but it’s also closely related to his belief. After that, he was able to find inner peace. He and Han Xiaodong shared weaknesses with each other. Li Jie said God uses weak people. If we make all the decisions solely at our will, we will definitely fail. But the gospel never fails, even if we may experience some threatening moments.
A poem for his wife
While in prison, Li wrote a poem for his wife:
I heard insects making beautiful sounds in the orchestra,
But my heart sorrows when I cannot see you.
The spring is in full swing and flowers are in bloom,
Now that God has the calling, I fully surrender to His order.
Where are they?
Currently, Li Jie, Han Xiaodong, and Wang Qiang are still imprisoned in Yaodu District Detention Center. Each of them has at least two children. Wang Qiang’s third child was just born but hasn’t met with their father yet.
Lawyers visit the authorities
On April 13, 2023, defense lawyers visited Linfen City People’s Procuratorate to talk to the procurator. The lawyers argued that Li Jie, Han Xiaodong, and Wang Qiang can’t commit fraud. They listed several reasons for this:
First, the investigative organ has some ridiculous logic: house churches are illegal organizations because they are not registered with the Civil Affairs Bureau. Preachers are illegal religious personnel because they were not registered with the Religious Affairs Bureau. Church core co-workers “defrauded” congregants through tithings and offerings, but giving tithes follows the teachings of the Bible as a Christian tradition 2,000 years of history. “Fraud” charges seriously damage China’s religious policy. According to Linfen Public Security Bureau’s logic, all house church ministers are committing “fraud” crimes and should all be arrested. This is against China’s religious policy.
A backward case
Second, as an investigative organ, Linfen Public Security Bureau created the case first and then forced so-called “victims” to report fake evidence. However, usually, the process of a true fraud case would operate differently. Victims report a case to public security and claim they were defrauded. Then, public security conducts some preliminary investigation and decides whether to create a case or not. Obviously, in this case with Linfen Covenant Church, public security purposefully created an unjust case. The so-called “victims” were forced to come up with “materials” to report the case after the fact. On March 11, 2023, lawyers submitted documents to report this problem, but they did not receive a response.
Finally, they requested Linfen City People’s Procuratorate to host a public hearing on the necessity of the arrest. Li Jie, Han Xiaodong, and Wang Qiang did not commit any crime at all, and they did not cause any social harm. According to item 2 and item 4 of Article 17 of Regulations on the Examination of the Necessity of the Arrest by People’s Procuratorates, the Procuratorates should advise the investigative organ to release the suspect or take more strict measures. According to item 1 of Article 4 of the Provisions of the People’s Procuratorates on the Hearing Work for Case Examination, if the Procuratorate controversially handled the arrest and caused a major social impact, the Procuratorate should listen to defendants and other relevant personnel’s opinion. A public hearing can be hosted upon the chief procurator’s approval.
A house church is a church
The lawyers also pointed out that church registration is required by the religious affairs bureau from an administrative management perspective. However, it does not mean an unregistered church is not a church. Also, Religious freedom is a basic human right. Religious activities emerged before countries were established, so religious belief is a basic need of human beings.
They made two requests to the authorities in charge of the case:
- Create a case to investigate Linfen public security bureau for initiating investigation first and then forcing the so-called “victim” to report a fake case with the purpose to create an unjust case, and sending the government personnel involved for investigation.
- Urge Linfen City People’s Procuratorate to host a public hearing on the necessity of the arrest, release defendants on bail and eventually drop the prosecution.
Latest meeting with authorities
The case has been transferred to Linfen City People’s Procuratorate for prosecution. On April 14, the procurator met with three defense lawyers and talked for more than one hour. The lawyers said the procurator was professional. Details cannot be revealed at this time.
~Yu Bing, ChinaAid Special Reporter