A secretive Chinese court sentenced one of the country’s best-known Christian voices and founder of one of its largest underground churches to nine years in prison for subversion of state power and illegal business operations, according to a government statement released on Monday.
Wang Yi, the pastor who founded Early Rain Covenant Church, was detained last December with more than 100 members of his congregation as part of a crackdown on churches, mosques and temples not registered with the state.
While most of Mr. Wang’s parishioners, including his wife, Jiang Rong, were eventually released, Mr. Wang never re-emerged from detention.
As part of his sentence, he will also be stripped of his political rights for three years and have 50,000 renminbi, or almost $7,200, of his assets seized, according to the statement.
Mr. Wang had become known for taking high-profile positions on politically sensitive issues, including forced abortions and the massacre that crushed the Tiananmen Square democracy movement in 1989.
A lawyer by training, Mr. Wang was a well-known blogger before converting to Christianity in 2005. Just a few months later, he was selected to meet President George W. Bush at the White House as part of a program to reach out to Chinese Christians.
More recently, he emerged as a critic of Xi Jinping, China’s leader, who ushered in more authoritarian policies and abolished term limits.
“Pastor Wang Yi was just sentenced to 9 years in prison for proclaiming the gospel,” read a statement posted to a Facebook page run by church supporters, which added, “May the Lord use Pastor Wang Yi’s imprisonment to draw many to Himself and to bring glory to His name.”
The government in November sentenced another church leader, Qin Defu, to four years in prison for the charge of illegal business operations.
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SOURCE: The New York Times, Paul Mozur and Ian Johnson