Chinese-American pastor David Lin was on a ministry trip to China in 2006 when he was arrested in Beijing after he helped a house church to build a premises. In 2009 he was convicted of “contract fraud”, a charge he denies, and was sentenced to life in prison. In 2022 his sentence was reduced to a scheduled release in April 2030.
LATEST NEWS (MARCH 2023): The US Ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns, made a rare visit to Pastor Lin and at least two other US citizens imprisoned in China. While no details of the meeting were released, China Aid said the visit was regarded as a “positive development”.
David Lin (68) is a naturalised US citizen who worked as an economist advising state officials in Iowa and California before travelling back to China as a missionary. When he first arrived in the United States he was not a Christian and reportedly told his family that only ignorant people believed in religion, but his wife became a Christian and led him to faith. He became actively involved in his church.
In the 1990s Pastor Lin began to travel frequently to China to support local churches. In 2006 he applied for a ministry licence from the Chinese government and later that year police detained him in Beijing and placed him under house arrest for having “illegal religious propaganda”.
Months later Pastor Lin was formally arrested and charged with “contract fraud” for helping a house church to construct a church building. He had allegedly helped Chinese nationals enter into a contract for premises intended for non-authorised house church use.
In 2008 Pastor Lin was imprisoned in a jail intended for foreign nationals. He told his family in phone conversations that they should not protest for his release as he saw his imprisonment as an opportunity to share his faith with inmates from more than thirty nations. He said he had established a Sunday prayer meeting right from the start of his imprisonment and was working on a new translation of the Bible into Mandarin.
In 2009 Pastor Lin was tried for “contract fraud” and was convicted and – later that year – sentenced to life in prison. He denies the charge and has been designated “wrongfully detained” by the US State Department.
Family begins campaign
Everything changed in December 2018, when Pastor Lin’s family opened a parcel to find that he had sent home his Bible. Between December 2018 and early 2019 he suddenly increased the frequency of phone calls to his family and he urged them to call for his release as his health was deteriorating and he was not receiving proper medical care. China Aid reported that it was suspected the prison had subjected him to “inhumane abuse”. Pastor Lin’s family contacted the US Department of State, which reportedly began work behind the scenes.
In April 2019 Pastor Lin’s daughter Alice Lin, who has not seen her father since her college graduation, gave her first media interview. She told a Washington Watch radio programme, “In December, we had this huge scare. He reached out to me urgently asking me to have his Bible translations removed. We were so grateful that the embassy was able to oblige and go and remove his Bible translations. So that embassy sent his Bible translations to us.”
She said, however, that when the family received the box of translations they were disturbed by what they found: “In that box with his Bible translations, we not only got the Bible translations. So we also found his Bible and all the cards and pictures and letters we sent him over the years. When my mom opened that box, she was hysterical. She knew something was wrong. We don’t know what’s happening. We know that something serious is happening in that dark place.”
Alice added that while the family does not know the exact details of her father’s case, he told them that officials forged documents and tried to get him to sign a confession, which he refused to do because he “didn’t do anything wrong”.
“What we do know is that he was in China because he had this huge burden for the unchurched in China,” Alice said. “He had the vision to build a church and a Christian training centre.”
Explaining why the family’s approach had changed, she said: “While my father has seen the prison as his mission field these last ten years, something has changed. In the last few months, he has been reaching out to us with increasing frequency, which is very unusual, and he’s had this anxiousness, this urgency in his voice. It’s the first time he’s ever asked us to reach out for help. Things are changing now; it’s time to bring him back home.”
On 8 April 2019 the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) announced its adoption of David Lin as part of the Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project. It reported that “Until recently, Pastor Lin ministered to his fellow prisoners and was translating the Bible into Chinese” but went on to say that “USCIRF is concerned about recent reports of Pastor Lin’s declining health and potential threats to his safety in prison.”
In November 2022, following a meeting between President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping in Bali, Pastor Lin’s sentence was reduced to a scheduled release in 2030.
In March 2023 the US Ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns, made a rare visit to at least three US citizens imprisoned in China, including Pastor Lin. While no details of the meeting were released, China Aid said the visit was regarded as a “positive development”.
In May 2023 Newsweek reported that Alice Lin said the family talks to her father twice a month for five minutes. She told Newsweek, “When he was first detained, my brother and I would alternate every other year to try to visit my dad in person… We do know over the years that he has lost at least five teeth, probably due to poor nutrition and hygiene conditions.”
Pastor Lin has a wife and family in the US and during his imprisonment he has missed his children’s weddings and the birth of his grandson. Since 2019, the pastor’s daughter Alice Lin has spoken out in public about his case.
1990s Pastor David Lin began to travel frequently to China to support local churches.
2006 Pastor Lin applied for a ministry licence.
2006 Later in 2006, police detained the pastor in Beijing and placed him under house arrest for having “illegal religious propaganda”. Months later he was formally arrested and charged with “contract fraud” for helping a house church to construct a church building.
2008 Pastor Lin was imprisoned in a jail intended for foreign nationals.
2009 He was tried for “contract fraud”, convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
December 2018 Pastor Lin’s family opened a parcel to find that he had sent home his Bible. He began to call home more often, urging his family to call for his release as his health was deteriorating.
8 April 2019 The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom announced its adoption of David Lin as part of the Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project.
November 2022 Pastor Lin’s sentence was reduced to a scheduled release in 2030.
March 2023 US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns visited Pastor Lin and at least two other US citizens imprisoned in China.
(Bitter Winter, China Aid, Christian Post, CNN, Family Research Council, Fox News, Newsweek, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Washington Watch)