Pastor Wang Yi of Sichuan Chengdu Early Rain Covenant Church was sentenced to 9 years imprisonment on a charge of “inciting subversion of state power” last year. At an unspecified time earlier this year, authorities allowed Pastor Wang’s family to visit him. Then on Wednesday March 25 a photo from an unspecified source showing Pastor Wang in prison circulated online for the first time.
According to Voice of the Martyrs Korea representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, the photo, whose authenticity has been privately confirmed by the ministry, shows Pastor Wang looking much thinner than before his imprisonment but looking sharp mentally. According to Foley, the ministry has learned that state security officers still closely monitor Pastor Wang’s wife, Jiang Rong, as well as Pastor Wang’s parents.
“Pastor Wang looks emaciated, wearing a maroon long sleeve shirt and a yellow vest and handcuffed,” says representative Foley. “This is the first photo of Pastor Wang that has surfaced since he was arrested at the end of 2018.” Pastor Wang is the senior pastor of Chengdu Early Rain Covenant Church. He took the lead of drafting “the China Declaration”, a statement ultimately signed by 439 Chinese pastors indicating why they were unable to follow new religious restrictions instituted in February 2018.
The first photo of imprisoned Pastor Wang Yi shows an emaciated but committed man.
Representative Foley says that a congregation member from Early Rain Covenant Church who insists on remaining anonymous received the photo.
“According to the person who passed the photo along, the purpose is to let people who care for him know his current situation,” says Representative Foley.
“Originally congregants of the church wanted to share the photo within the church, but it ended up being posted online.”
Representative Foley says that the congregation also learned that Pastor Wang was due to be transferred from the Chengdu Municipal Detention Center to prison in late January, but his relocation continues to be postponed because of the Coronavirus outbreak.
On December 9, 2018, Chengdu state security officers shut down Early Rain Covenant Church, detaining Pastor Wang and other church leaders. In the ensuing investigation, approximately 100 members of the church were summoned, and some were criminally detained. On December 30, 2019, Pastor Wang was sentenced to 9 years imprisonment and deprived for three years of political rights by the Chengdu court on charges of “inciting subversion of state power” and “illegal business operations”. The next day, Chengdu Early Rain Covenant Church made a declaration that Pastor Wang was innocent and that the authorities’ verdict was unjust persecution against house churches in mainland China.
Pastor Wang, who is 46 years old, graduated from Sichuan University Law School. In 2004 he was selected as one of “the most impactful public intellectuals” by Southern People Weekly Magazine in China. In 2005 he converted to Christianity. Then he and his wife Jiang Rong began hosting a Christian fellowship.
“Authorities imposed many restrictions on him over the years, warning him to dismiss the house church or join his church to the three-self church multiple times, but it was rejected by the church,”
says Representative Foley.
Representative Foley notes that Pastor Wang is only one of many pastors in China who have experienced interrogation, imprisonment, or coercion since the wave of crackdowns that began in February 2018.
“In September 2018, 439 Chinese pastors signed a declaration of faith written by Pastor Wang. Many of the document’s signers have paid a high price through persecution. That is why we translated this document into Korean, Chinese, Russian, and English and posted it at www.chinadeclaration.com. We have been calling on Christians in Korea and around the world to add their own names to those of the 439 Chinese pastors who originally signed it. In this way we can stand with them, make sure they are not cut off from the worldwide body of Christ, and show the Chinese government that the global church is continuing to support our brothers and sisters in China.”
Representative Foley said that so far 4,157 people have signed the online petition since it was first posted last summer by Voice of the Martyrs Korea. She said the goal is to reach 4,390 signatures—10 signatures of support on behalf of each Chinese pastor who originally signed the document. Then Voice of the Martyrs Korea will deliver the petition to the Chinese Embassy in Seoul.
Representative Foley says that signees do not need to worry that their information will be given to the Chinese government.
“When we deliver the petition, we include only the first name of signees, along with the date of each signature and confirmation that we have verified its validity,” she said. “It is a safe, powerful, and effective way to stand with Pastor Wang Yi and other persecuted Chinese Christians and churches, letting the Communist Party know that neither Pastor Wang Yi nor our other Chinese brothers and sisters are forgotten.”