Chinese Pastor Released After Serving 7-Year Prison Sentence for Protesting Church Demolition

Oct 20, 2016 12:01 PM EDT

A prominent Chinese pastor who was arrested for protesting the forced demolition of a local church has been released after enduring seven years in prison, where she was reportedly tortured.

According to persecution watchdog China Aid, Pastor Yang Rongli, who led the 50,000-member Linfen Church in Shaanxi province, and her husband Wang Xiaoguang were arrested in 2009 while traveling to Taiyuan, the provincial capital, to protest the demolition of a house church in their hometown.

Later that year, they were convicted of "gathering a mob to disturb public order" for holding a prayer rally on Sept. 14, the day after 400 military police raided the church's grounds. During the raid, more than 30 believers were seriously wounded and 17 buildings were destroyed.

Authorities sentenced Yang and Wang to seven and three years in prison, respectively, and fined the couple a total of 40,000 Yuan (U.S. $5,860).

Yang was forced to serve the entirety of her sentence, despite her insistence that the charge was falsified, and was released last week. During her time in prison, the pastor was reportedly tortured and upon her release showed physical signs of the brutality she endured.

Despite suffering from two kidney stones, hepatitis, diabetes, and a heart problem, Yang was denied medical assistance during her time in prison, according to the Human Rights Commission. However, the pastor has reportedly forgiven her persecutors and was in good spirits regarding her freedom.

China is ranked 33rd on Open Door USA's World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution. Over the past several years, hundreds of underground church members, priests, human rights lawyers, and other activists have been arrested by the Communist Party for protesting against the nationwide crackdown on churches.

Government workers have removed thousands of church rooftop crosses and bulldozed churches, calling them building code violations, though groups like China Aid have said that Communist Party officials are seeking to purposefully curb the growth of Christianity.

Nevertheless, Christianity continues to grow across China, and the country is on track to have the largest Christian population in the world by 2030.

"While we still feel the pain and suffering of our brothers and sisters in China, we have seen the Good News spark the rapid growth of Christianity," China Aid president Bob Fu told The Gospel Herald. "We have seen a great revival - more and more believers are becoming actively involved. I believe that in the end, the Communist Party will be called the 'Servant of the Lord.'"