The political landscape in the U.S. has shifted since 2018, yet Pastor Wang Yi still languishes in a Chinese prison. He’s a fitting symbol of the many persecuted by Communist China for their religious faith. Yet few outside China know his name.
Wang, founder of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, China, was arrested in December 2018, along with over 100 other members of his congregation. They were charged with “inciting subversion of state power”—a charge often given to Christians who do not fit the Communist Party’s ideological mold.
Wang’s church released his statement on civil disobedience—a treatise he penned on how believers should respond when the state conflicts with deeply held religious beliefs—shortly after his arrest.
A year later, on Dec. 30, 2019, the People’s Intermediate Court in Chengdu sentenced him to nine years in prison. He was convicted for “illegal business operations” and “inciting subversion” against the state.
Wang’s wife, Jiang Rong, was allowed to visit him in November 2021—the first time since his arrest three years before. Prior to this visit, Chengdu State Security forces prohibited his family members from visiting the prison.
Information on Wang is still limited, however, as Chengdu State Security restricts what he can disclose to family members. Chengdu Jintang Prison officials have claimed Wang is in good condition. But insider reports say he is likely being held in closed confinement. If so, he can’t meet with inmates other than two hardened criminals who likely share his cell. He is forced to eat moldy rice. Any health care he receives would come, at best, from unqualified medical staff or might even be cobbled together from fellow prisoners.
The Chengdu National Security Police also continue to intimidate and harass Wang’s family. Party officials have subjected his wife to 24-hour surveillance. They installed 360-degreee cameras in her home, robbing her of all privacy. The police also surveil and harass Wang’s parents and son.
Moreover, congregants of Early Rain Covenant Church continue to face persecution. Dai Zhichao and his family, for instance, have been subject to various forms of harassment by Communist Party officials, such as intimidation and the vandalizing of their home. Police have also targeted members of his small church group, one of whom was threatened and beaten on three separate occasions.
What Can Be Done?
The Chinese Communist Party’s attempt to bring religion under its control has been met with courageous opposition, and Wang’s testimony is a prime example. As he wrote in his Declaration of Religious Disobedience,
As long as the secular government continues to persecute the church, violating human consciences that belong to God alone, I will continue my faithful disobedience. For the entire commission God has given me is to let more Chinese people know through my actions that the hope of humanity and society is only in the redemption of Christ, in the supernatural, gracious sovereignty of God.
But can we do anything to help such persecuted faithful inside China?
Yes. Wang has been adopted as a prisoner of conscience by a member of Congress as part of the Tom Lantos Defending Freedoms Project.
Olivia Enos, a senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, further recommends that the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom adopt Wang as a religious prisoner of conscience as part of their Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project. The commission has a track record of success, even in China.
For example, Dilshat Perhat Ataman, a Uyghur Muslim in Xinjiang, China, who was detained in 2018, was released a year later with the help of Tony Perkins’, the commission chair, advocacy work. If the commission adopted Wang, it would raise the profile of his case and make his release more likely. It would also make the wider world more aware of the Chinese Communist Party’s track record of religious persecution.
Indeed, the imprisonment of Wang and the detention and harassment of his family and other Early Rain members is just one of many such instances of religious persecution in China. Adopting Wang as a religious prisoner of conscience would elevate the profile of his case and shed light on the Communist Party’s systematic persecution of Christians.
The religious convictions of Christians like Wang cannot be reconciled with the communists’ efforts to assimilate them into the party ideology. This conflict must be met with efforts—on our part and on the part of the U.S. government and advocacy groups—to alleviate the plight of Chinese Christians.
The Commission on International Religious Freedom’s work in adopting prisoners of conscience is an especially promising avenue for elevating Wang’s case. Cases like these should continue to serve as a wake-up call to the leaders of the free world to defend those around the globe persecuted for their faith.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal