Elder Qin Defu (39) of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, capital of China’s southwestern Sichuan province, was arrested following a raid on the church on 9 December 2018. In November 2019 he was sentenced to four years in prison for “illegal business operations” – a charge that relates to his involvement in printing hymnals and other books for church use without a licence. Prior to the raid, the government had repeatedly harassed the church. Elder Qin was released on 9 December 2022 after completing his prison sentence.
LATEST NEWS (DECEMBER 2022): On 9 December, Qin Defu was released from prison after serving his sentence.
Qin Defu (sometimes spelled “Derfu”) was born in rural Deyang, Sichuan province, where his father was a preacher – he had become a Christian in 1989, became involved in the Three Self Patriotic Movement and many years later left to join the local house-church network. Qin Defu and his wife Xiao Hongliu settled in Chengdu, where he ran a shop until 2017, when he closed his business to serve full-time in Early Rain Covenant Church (ERCC), first as a deacon and then as an elder with responsibility for church management. He was among at least 150 members detained following the raid on the church in December 2018.
Detained church members were held for various periods of time, some for several months, but all have been released except for Elder Qin and Pastor Wang Yi, who is serving a nine-year prison sentence. Many released church members have lost their jobs, been evicted or had their bank accounts frozen, and some have been sent back to their home towns in an apparent attempt to weaken the church leadership.
ERCC is one of China’s most prominent unregistered churches, with more than eight hundred members plus an affiliated primary school and Bible school. The church began in 2005 in Pastor Wang’s home but grew rapidly and at the time of the raid in December 2018 the church was renting two floors in an office building.
Police harassed the church repeatedly throughout 2018, including carrying out raids in May and June and briefly detaining hundreds of members. On the Sunday following 9 December’s raid, church members arrived at the premises to find it locked and guarded by police officers, and since then church members have had to meet in small groups and have faced constant harassment from the authorities.
Elder Qin was tried at the Qingyang People’s Court on 25 November 2019. The court only gave his wife Xiao Hongliu two passes to attend the trial, so no one from ERCC was present, and many plainclothes officials reportedly gathered outside the court to intimidate his supporters.
It emerged at the trial that the charge of “illegal business operations” related to the printing and publication of 20,000 hymnals, gospel pamphlets and other Christian books printed without authorisation from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television. The court asked Elder Qin to plead guilty, but he refused. The judge stated that “Qin’s criminal act was especially grave.”
Following the trial, Xiao Hongliu posted on social media: “Dad and I returned home accompanied by the police. The prosecutor accused Qin Derfu of running an illegal business, and the lawyer defended for his innocence. Qin Derfu also testified that it is not a crime to have faith. We pray and look up to God for the result – justice is in His hand.”
On 29 November 2019, Elder Qin was sentenced to four years in prison. The authorities reneged on a promise to his family that if they accepted two state-assigned lawyers to replace Qin’s own lawyer, he “would only need to appear at the court before he can be released”.
Following the sentencing, Pastor Wang Yi’s former lawyer Zhang Peihong (who had represented the pastor before the authorities removed him) said: “At brother Qin’s trial, we learned that the charge of ‘illegal business operations’ only concerned 20,000 books for the church’s own use (most of these were small gospel tracts like ‘The Good News You Don’t Want to Hear’), and Pastor Wang Yi actively took most of the responsibility for this in his testimony. Based on this, I estimate that Pastor Wang Yi will be sentenced to no less than ten years in prison.”
Elder Qin is married to Xiao Hongliu and they have two children, the younger of whom, Zhuoling, was born in 2018. He has not been allowed to see them since his arrest. Also in 2018, Elder Qin’s father died in a car accident on his way home from preaching.
Sunday 9 December 2018 The authorities raided Early Rain Covenant Church and began to arrest members, including elder Qin Defu and all other leaders. By the end of the week, at least 150 members and Bible school students had been seized in their homes and workplaces or on the streets and taken into custody.
10 December 2018 The Chengdu Religious Affairs Bureau issued a notice stating that the activities of Early Rain Covenant Church were violating China’s revised Religious Affairs Regulations.
Sunday 16 December 2018 ERCC members not in detention arrived at the church premises to find every entrance guarded by police officers who prevented worshippers from entering. Some members started a small worship meeting in a nearby park, but police shut it down.
Sunday 24 February 2019 Police raided two ERCC meetings in private homes and arrested 44 people at the meetings and later that day, including elderly people, pregnant women and eleven children. At least eleven of those arrested were given ten to 14 days’ administrative detention.
Sunday 21 April 2019 Police seized at least seven church members, including children, who were meeting in a park to celebrate Easter. They were interrogated for several hours and held until the early hours of the following morning.
4 June 2019 On the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, ERCC families were ordered not to leave home or meet with others. Police surveillance was stepped up and some houses had power and water cut off. At least two church members were detained for questioning for several hours.
25 November 2019 Elder Qin was tried at the Qingyang People’s Court. The court asked him to plead guilty to the charge of “illegal business operations” (printing and publishing 20,000 Bibles, gospel pamphlets and other Christian books without licence) but he refused.
29 November 2019 Elder Qin was sentenced to four years in prison. The authorities reneged on a promise to his family that he would be released if they accepted two state-assigned lawyers to replace his own lawyer.
9 December 2022 Elder Qin was released from prison after serving his sentence.
(China Aid/Early Rain Covenant Church/International Christian Concern)