On 20 November the case of ten Christians who have been detained for two years and seven months finally went to trial.
The Christians – Wang Honglan (pictured), Ji Heying, Zhang Wang, Wang Jiale, Liu Minna, Li Chao, Yang Zhijun, Ji Guolong, Liu Wei and Ban Yanhong – were accused of “illegal business operation” just because they bought Bibles from the officially-recognised Three-Self Church and resold them to fellow Christians at a lower price. Several of those on trial are elderly and some struggle with illnesses that make their suffering in the detention centre even greater.
Wang Honglan (68) has served in the church for decades since becoming a Christian at the age of 24. She has been imprisoned for a total of five years because of her faith and was subjected to re-education through labour for one year. The church she belongs to has held a prayer session at 6 am every morning for thirty years, regardless of the weather.
Over the years, to make the Bible more affordable for fellow Christians, the ten Christians on trial bought copies from the Three-Self Church in Nanjing at 95% of the regular price and sold them at 75% of the regular price. In doing this they lost a lot of money but they were accused of “illegal business operations” (a common charge against Chinese church leaders) and were arrested on 14 April 2021. The prosecutor’s office determined that the sales of Bibles amounted to over ￥40 million Yuan (approximately €5 million).
Those arrested with Wang Honglan included her husband Ji Heying (73), their son Ji Guolong, their nephew Wang Jiale and several co-workers. Wang Honglan, Wang Jiale, Liu Minna, and Ban Yanhong were identified as the main defendants, with the prosecution recommending a sentence of 10 to 15 years. Ji Heying, Yang Zhijun, Ji Guolong, Liu Wei, Zhang Wang, and Li Chao are considered secondary offenders and the prosecutor recommended varying sentences.
A five-day pre-trial case meeting was held in January 2022 but it was temporarily suspended while a group of lawyers was engaged to act on behalf of the family, and the meeting was not reconvened until 20 March 2023 due to the Covid pandemic.
The second pre-trial meeting, which began on 9 May, lasted for three and a half days and by the afternoon of 12 May several defence lawyers expressed the hope that the prosecutor’s office would proactively and quickly correct its mistakes. They argued that the case was legally unfounded, lacked evidence and had procedural flaws. They urged the prosecution not to burden those who were doing good deeds with criminal responsibility and said they hoped the court would recommend the withdrawal of the charges.
A defence lawyer commented, “We are all beneficiaries of the Holy Bible. Perhaps many Christians’ Holy Bible was subsidised by Wang Honglan and other defendants. They have paid a great price for this, and the lawyers urge everyone not to forget them.”
On 8 November the Hohhot City Huimin District People’s Court issued subpoenas notifying that the trial would take place at 10 am on 20 November. Hohhot is the capital of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in northern China.
In a post on Weibo, one of the defence lawyers, Fang Xiangui, criticised the court’s intentional scheduling of the trial to coincide with his engagements in another city. His request that the trial be rescheduled was rejected and he stated that the court had effectively created a conflict in schedule, thereby infringing upon the defence rights of the lawyer.
During the investigation Wang Honglan was subjected to verbal abuse but when the judge informed her that she could recount the situation she refused, preferring to bear the unfavourable legal consequences than repeat vulgar language. It was reported that none of the Christians on trial shouted or lost control and that all demonstrated intentional obedience – the lawyer said they were exemplary Christians.
No details of the trial have been reported and the verdict is pending.