The pastor of Early Rain Covenant Church in China is facing new charges from the communist government seven months after he was arrested alongside 100 members of his congregation.
In addition to “inciting subversion” and attempting to turn people against the Chinese government, Wang has now been charged with “illegal business activity,” Radio Free Asia reports.
A local Christian told the outlet that the so-called illegal business charge is likely due to the fact that authorities have little evidence to support the subversion charge, which can result in up to 10 years’ imprisonment.
"They want to charge Pastor Wang Yi with inciting subversion, but even they know that this isn't a very persuasive accusation," the person said. "So they are hoping for a breakthrough using economic [crimes]."
The pastor of the 5,000-member church, his wife, Jiang Rong, and about 100 other Early Rain members were arrested on Dec. 9, 2018. While Jiang Rong was released after six months, her husband and four other members of the church remain in secret detention.
Some church members who were detained and later released described how police tortured them in an attempt to turn them against Wang. Some claimed police tied them to a chair and deprived them of food for 24 hours.
Additionally, authorities ransacked and sealed Early Rain Covenant Church’s properties, including offices, a kindergarten, a seminary, and a Bible college, and searched the homes of many of its members. Police also forced church members to sign a pledge not to attend the church again, and around half of the church's original membership remain under close surveillance by police.
"There's nothing we can do," a Christian surnamed Li told Radio Free Asia. "Any more than about five or six people gathered together will attract attention ... and if they find you, you will be detained."
"Around 50 to 60 percent of Early Rain members are currently under surveillance right now," she said. "Their phones and [social media accounts on] WeChat are being monitored."
Ahead of his arrest, Wang released a letter speaking of “disgust” at the Communist Party.
“I believe that this Communist regime’s persecution against the church is a greatly wicked, unlawful action. As a pastor of a Christian church, I must denounce this wickedness openly and severely,” the pastor wrote.
“The calling that I have received requires me to use non-violent methods to disobey those human laws that disobey the Bible and God. My Savior Christ also requires me to joyfully bear all costs for disobeying wicked laws.”
China’s Communist Party requires that Protestants worship only in churches recognized and regulated by the officially sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement. In recent years, authorities have carried out a crackdown on all religious institutions, including bulldozing churches and removing rooftop crosses.
China ranks as the 27th worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s World Watch List. Open Doors has expressed concern that the religious affairs in China now “lies with the Communist Party.”
“Since the Communist Party took over, the implementation of the regulations on religion, the treatment of religious groups, especially Christians, became much harsher across the country,” Open Doors USA's fact sheet reads.
“Crackdowns against Christians happen countrywide and in both state-approved and non-registered churches. The youth are increasingly being removed from church life; worship is monitored via CCTV and spies; and teachers and medical workers are told they are not allowed to have any religious affiliation.”
This month, Chinese persecution watchdog group Bitter Winter reported that since the Regulations on Religious Affairs legislation was implemented last year, schools around China have taught children that Christianity is an “evil cult.”