SHANGHAI, Dec 30 — A Chinese court sentenced the pastor of the Early Rain Covenant Church, Wang Yi, to nine years in prison on charges of inciting subversion of state power and illegally operating a business.
Wang was among dozens of churchgoers and leaders of the Early Rain Covenant Church detained by police in December 2018, most of whom were subsequently released.
The church is one of China's best known unregistered Protestant “house” churches.
Chinese law requires that places of worship register and submit to government oversight, but some have declined to register, for various reasons, and are called “house” churches.
China's constitution guarantees religious freedom but since President Xi Jinping took office six years ago, the government has tightened restrictions on religions seen as a challenge to the authority of the ruling Communist Party.
The government has cracked down on underground churches, both Protestant and Catholic, and has rolled out new legislation to increase oversight of religious education and practices, with harsher punishment for practices not sanctioned by authorities.
According to the statement posted on the website of the Chengdu court in the western province of Sichuan, Wang has also been deprived of his political rights for three years and 50,000 yuan (RM29,431) of his personal property was confiscated as part of his sentencing.
China also sentenced Nobel Peace Prize-winning dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2009 to 11 years in prison on charges of “inciting subversion of state power.” Liu died in prison in 2017 after he was denied permission to leave China for treatment for late-stage liver cancer. — Reuters