Concerns are growing over the health of a jailed Protestant pastor in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan.
Wang Yi, founder of the Early Rain Covenant Church, has been detained by authorities in Sichuan’s provincial capital Chengdu since December 2018 on suspicion of “incitement to subvert state power.”
He was arrested along with dozens of church members in a raid that prompted an international outcry.
In 2019, the Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court found Wang guilty of “incitement to subvert state power” and of “running an illegal business.” He was sentenced to nine years in prison.
“It looks as if Pastor Wang Yi is being treated very badly in prison right now,” said Bob Fu, president and founder of the US-based Christian rights group ChinaAid, in an interview with Radio Free Asia.
“Pastor Wang Yi is being kept in solitary confinement in [Chengdu’s] Jintang Prison, with two other prisoners guarding him,” added Fu.
He said authorities had prevented family members and lawyers from visiting Wang since he was jailed, and now appeared to be withholding medical treatment too.
Wang’s arrest came after he published an essay critical of the government’s tight control over religion, and calling on China’s Christians to resist and peacefully disobey new rules issued by the ruling Chinese Communist Party severely restricting the activities of religious organizations.
Wang, 48, founded the Early Rain Covenant church in 2008 after several years of political activism that saw him named as “one of the most influential public intellectuals” by the Southern Weekend newspaper in 2004.
A graduate of the Sichuan University Law School, Wang went on to teach at Chengdu University. He also founded an online forum to study progress in China towards constitutional government.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party, which embraces atheism, exercises tight controls over any form of religious practice among its citizens.
China is home to an estimated 68 million Protestants, of whom 23 million worship in state-affiliated churches, and some nine million Catholics, 5.7 million of whom are in state-sponsored organizations.
The administration of President Xi Jinping regards Christianity as a dangerous foreign import, with officials warning last year against the “infiltration of Western hostile forces” in the form of religion. – with a report from Radio Free Asia