The Wall Street Journal
By Eva Dou
Before his detention, Wang Yi wrote an essay saying the Communist Party’s ideology is ‘morally incompatible with the Christian faith’
BEIJING—An outspoken Christian leader was sentenced by a Chinese court to nine years in prison, an unusually harsh punishment for a religious leader, as President Xi Jinping tightens control of religion and curtails dissent.
Pastor Wang Yi was sentenced Monday for incitement of subversion of state power and illegal business operations, the court in Chengdu said, charges the government often lodges against political dissidents and underground religious leaders.
Mr. Wang’s Early Rain Covenant Church in the central city of Chengdu was for years one of China’s most politically active, spearheading petitions for religious freedom, including one last year that drew signatures from across the country. The Protestant church held an annual service to remember the government’s deadly 1989 crackdown on democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Observance of the massacre is heavily restricted in mainland China.
While Early Rain’s activism was largely tolerated for years, authorities shut down the church in December 2018 amid a nationwide campaign against unregistered houses of worship. More than 100 members of the church were detained, with most of them since released.
Bob Fu, founder of U.S. Christian activist group ChinaAid, said Mr. Wang’s sentence by the Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court was the longest for a Han Chinese leader of an unregistered church in more than a decade.
“I think the regime is really afraid of his national and international impact, especially the growing impact of the reformed evangelical movement he is leading nationwide,” he said.
Mr. Fu, who is based in Texas and in contact with Christians in China, said at least 80 members of the Early Rain church were tortured during their detention and that many others have been required to check in five times a day with security handlers since their release.
Chengdu’s public-security bureau didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
While unauthorized churches have always been illegal in China under Communist Party rule, many have been allowed to operate. But Mr. Xi has been concerned about the power of religion to spark unrest and has ordered strict party control of religious activities, prompting a wave of church shutdowns and clergy detentions last year.
Before his detention, Mr. Wang had written defiant essays, one of which said that the Chinese Communist Party’s ideology was “morally incompatible with the Christian faith.”
Early Rain on Monday released an undated statement from Mr. Wang that appeared to have been written ahead of his trial. “Regardless of what crime the government charges me with…it is merely a lie and temptation of demons,” he wrote. “I categorically deny it. I will serve my sentence, but I will not serve the law.”
Patrick Poon, a researcher at Amnesty International, said: “It speaks volumes that Wang Yi felt he needed to prepare a statement in advance refuting the court’s conclusions.”
Chinese courts often try sensitive cases near the end of the calendar year. Chinese state media also reported Monday that He Jiankui, the scientist who created the world’s first known genetically modified babies, was sentenced to three years in prison.