The Trump administration has called on the Chinese government to release a megachurch pastor who has been sentenced to nine years in prison for simply preaching the gospel.
Wang Yi, the founding pastor of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, Sichuan province, was found guilty on charges of “inciting subversion of state power” and “illegally operating a business,” according to the Guardian.
Pastor Yi was detained in December 2018 along with several other church leaders from the influential, 5000-strong protestant church. While the others have since been released, Wang Yi, who has personally called on President Xi Jinping to “repent of his sins,” has been punished harshly by the Chinese state.
Now, the Trump administration is calling on him to be released with immediate effect.
“We are alarmed that Pastor Wang Yi … was tried in secret and sentenced to nine years in prison in connection to his peaceful advocacy for religious freedom. We call for his immediate and unconditional release,” said U.S. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus wrote in a statement Tuesday.
Ortagus added that this was “yet another example of Beijing’s intensification of repression of Chinese Christians and members of other religious groups” and urged Beijing “to uphold its international commitments and promises made in its own constitution to promote religious freedom for all.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a long-time advocate of religious freedom across the globe, tweeted a personal call for Pastor Yi to be freed.
“I am alarmed that Pastor Wang Yi, leader of Chengdu’s Early Rain house church, was tried in secret and sentenced to nine years in prison on trumped-up charges. Beijing must release him and end its intensifying repression of Christians and members of all other religious groups,” he wrote.
China is one of the most oppressive countries on earth in which to live as a Christian, with the government embarking on a nationwide “sinicization” campaign against the faith, demolishing “unregistered” churches and regularly arresting church leaders. Incredibly, despite the relentless oppression, the underground church is exploding – according to religious persecution advocacy group, Open Doors USA, the communist state is currently home to just under 100 million believers.