CHINA: Early Rain church leaders remain in prison

Wang Yi & Jiang RongOver five weeks after the coordinated raids on Early Rain Covenant Church members in Chengdu, several leaders including Pastor Wang Yi and his wife Jiang Rong (pictured left) are still in prison. While many of the church members who were arrested in December and early January have been released, more have been arrested this week and over twenty church members remain in detention.

On Early Rain’s Facebook page Pastor Wang Yi’s lawyer describes how he tried unsuccessfully to meet with his client for three consecutive days between 7 and 9 January. The lawyer went to Chengdu Public Security Bureau on 7 January and was told he had to wait 48 hours for a response regarding seeing Pastor Wang Yi. The following day the lawyer met with Wang Yi’s son Shu Ya (11) and mother Chen Yaxue (73) at the People’s Park near their home. He reported about this meeting: “When our meeting concluded, I prayed a brief prayer of blessing for Wang Yi’s mother and Shu Ya and then was taken to a nearby police station by plainclothes officers on charges of ‘participating in religious activities in a public space.’ I was kept there for nearly 6 hours and was interrogated twice.”

On the third day, when the 48 hours were up, the lawyer was told he was not allowed to meet with his client. He finishes the description of his ordeal with this comment: “During these three days police were polite and restrained. I’m basically certain Pastor Wang Yi is being detained in Chengdu. The staff in charge of the case said they would guarantee him food and rest. I asked if I could pass on a Bible to Wang Yi. A police officer took it but couldn’t promise it would be delivered to him. At the moment, his detention term is almost fulfilled. There is news spreading of others in detention being served formal arrest warrants or being released on bail.”

Despite the church closure in December, members of Early Rain Covenant Church continue to meet in smaller groups, outdoors or in private homes. The church’s Facebook page is updated daily with scriptures, videos of sermons and lists of church members who are being held in detention. The picture on the left was posted in December 2018 and shows church members before the arrests began.

Criminal detention vs administrative detention

While a number of church members have been held in criminal detention, others have been and are still held in administrative detention.

Criminal detention begins a process that leads to a formal arrest and is usually then followed by trial in court. Typically the detention period lasts up to three days, in extraordinary circumstances up to seven days. A “major suspect” may be held for as long as thirty days.

Administrative detention can be imposed for up to 15 days to allow questioning of suspects and to punish conduct not considered criminal, including “inciting illegal assembly”.

List of detained church members

Here is a list of 15 church members in criminal detention:

  1. Pastor Wang Yi (inciting to subvert state power, in secret detention)
  2. Pastor’s wife Jiang Rong (inciting to subvert state power, in secret detention)
  3. Elder Li Yingqiang (picking quarrels and provoking trouble)
  4. Elder Qin Defu (illegal business operations)
  5. Deacon Ge Yingfeng (illegal business operations)
  6. Sister Li Xiaofeng (illegal business operations)
  7. Elder Li Zihu (picking quarrels and provoking trouble)
  8. Brother Wang Fei (picking quarrels and provoking trouble)
  9. Elder Su Bingsen (picking quarrels and provoking trouble, detained at Chengdu City Detention Centre)
  10. Brother Dai Zhichao (picking quarrels and provoking trouble, detained at Chengdu City Detention Center)
  11. Brother Zhu Dong (charge unknown, detained at Chengdu City Detention Centre)
  12. Preacher Cao Qingen (picking quarrels and provoking trouble, detained at Chengdu Detention Centre)
  13. Brother Liang Huali (illegal business operations, detained at Chengdu City Detention Centre)
  14. Brother Song Enguang (illegal business operations, detained at Chengdu City Detention Centre)
  15. Preacher Cheng Zhangchun (placed in administrative detention on 15/12/18 for 14 days then transferred to criminal detention)

The following seven church members are still in administrative detention:

  1. Sister Li Chengju (placed in administrative detention for 14 days on 07/01/19)
  2. Brother Zhu Hong (placed in administrative detention for 14 days on 07/01/19)
  3. Sister Deng Keli (placed in administrative detention for 14 days on 07/01/19)
  4. Brother Zhang Jianqing (placed in administrative detention for 15 days on 12/01/19)
  5. Sister Yu Zhixue (placed in administrative detention for 15 days on 12/01/19)
  6. Brother Qiu Hao (placed in administrative detention for 15 days on 12/01/19)
  7. Sister Zhang Haiyan (placed in administrative detention for 15 days on 12/01/19)

Church members face continued harassment

On Sunday 13 January members of a small group of Early Rain church were arrested during their worship in a private home. Officers from a local police station interrupted their meeting and took most of the adults away. Only two female members of the group were allowed to stay behind to look after the many children present. On 14 January four members of this group were sentenced to 15 days in jail.

Also on Sunday, one church member reported that nine police officers were guarding the door of their home. A non-Christian friend who has been living at the home was stopped when he went outside. The officers took his ID card, searched his phone and then forced him to take his bags and leave.

Woman suffers miscarriage after harassment 

About one month after officials dragged an expectant mother and member of Early Rain church from her bed and interrogated her, she has suffered a miscarriage. She was continually harassed by authorities in the past month and on 5 January, at ten weeks pregnant, she had to be rushed to a hospital, where it was confirmed that she had lost her baby.

Early Rain church inspires others

After seeing that members of an Early Rain church small group were taken away, a pastor in Wenzhou responded in a message saying: “Thank God! The persecution you are encountering has greatly encouraged me. In the midst of trials and tribulations, you have steadfast hope. This has caused me to repent by fleeing comfort. The next time my church encounters persecution, you suffering saints will remind me that the cross is my glory. Christ’s perfect Kingdom of Heaven has sounded forth out of this environment in which you are trapped and has caused a chain reaction. God has heard our cries.”

(China Aid/Pray for Early Rain Covenant Church (Facebook)/The Wall Street Journal)