Protestant pastor Wang Yi, of the Early Rain Covenant Church, has been handed a nine year prison sentence by a court in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan on Monday, December 30, after being held in prison for a year.
The entire process had taken place around Christmas to minimize publicity, according to former 1989 pro-democracy activist Fang Zheng, who is now settled in the U.S.
“Wang Yi was subjected to a secret trial for Christmas after being detained in secret for a year,” Fang said. “Everything highlights the judicial murkiness of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Wang, a social activist 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 last week.
The court sentenced him to nine years’ imprisonment, confiscating his personal property to the value of 50,000 yuan.
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.
The trial came after Wang’s lawyer Zhang Peihong was prevented from representing him because he had made comments deemed critical of the ruling Chinese Communist Party online.
A source close to the case told RFA that the government-approved lawyer who took his place, Qin Shaohua, had focused his attention on trying to get Wang to plead guilty in order to reduce his sentence, a strategy that appears to have been unsuccessful.
A church member said hundreds of plainclothes state security police were seen outside the court building on Friday, suggesting that the trial was under way at that time.
“Some church members went [to the court]and found that the street was full of plainclothes police, hundreds of them,” the church member said.
“Some people were detained as soon as they arrived at the court gates, with a certain amount of violence, so overall the conclusion is that the trial was going on [on Friday],” he said.
Wang’s wife Jiang Rong is currently out on “bail” after being detained alongside her husband during the initial raid on the church.
Both she and Wang’s parents remain under close surveillance by state security police.
Fang called on the international community to put more pressure on Beijing to release prisoners of conscience.
Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International, said Wang had prepared a statement in advance anticipating the court’s decision and negating any alleged “confessions” he reportedly made.
“Today’s verdict makes a mockery of China’s supposed religious freedoms,” Poon said. “Wang Yi was merely practicing his religion and peacefully standing up for human rights in China.”
“This nine-year sentence is appalling and unjust. Wang Yi is a prisoner of conscience and must be immediately and unconditionally released,” he said. “In China, religious practitioners live under the permanent threat of politically motivated prosecution and conviction.” (Source: RFA)