A prominent pastor in China has been sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison after being charged with "divulging state secrets", prompting a Christian human rights organization to call on President-elect Donald Trump to "unequivocally condemn this brutal act."
According to China Aid, Li Guozhi, a pastor at Huoshi Church who goes by the pseudonym Yang Hua, was taken into police custody on Dec. 9, 2015, after he attempted to prevent them from confiscating one of the church's hard drives. On Thursday, the pastor was sentenced to two years and six months in prison by a court in China's central Guizhou province.
"This is nothing but purely barbaric religious persecution," said Bob Fu, president and founder of China Aid. "We urge President Obama and President-Elect Trump to unequivocally condemn this brutal act."
In 2016 later interview with his lawyers, Chen Jiangang and Zhao Yonglin, Yang shared how prosecutors tortured him when he refused to confess to his charges, including standing on his toes and threatening to kill him and bring harm to his family. As a result, Chen and Zhao sued the prosecutors for "using torture to extort a confession" and asked that they be dealt with according to the law. Nevertheless, the prosecutors were not removed from his case.
"Even a day in jail is too much for an innocent person," defense attorney Chen told Radio Free Asia following Yang's sentencing. "I have only one thing to say about this. This isn't a judgement: it's persecution."
"This is a political case that has nothing to do with the law or the truth," Chen continued. "This is political persecution pure and simple."
In a letter penned to his wife in 2016, Yang described how God had used the time of pain and uncertainty for His glory.
"This is a good place to rest, where I am cut off from the rest of the world and brought closer to God," he wrote of his jail cell. "I can no longer hear the clamorous noise, but can better listen to the Lord's voice."
The pastor added, "Genuine rest has nothing to do with the environment. No matter if the waves are quiet or the sea roars, our hearts rest in [God], just as a weaned child sleeps in its mother's arms. I want to thank God for using this special method to give this special gift to our household. Let us accept and enjoy it with a thankful heart."
The pastor was supposed to be released on December 20; however, when his wife came to collect him, she saw officials herding him into an unlicensed vehicle as he donned a black hood.
Eventually, she learned that his charge had changed, and that he was being transferred to criminal detention for "illegally possessing state secrets." He was officially arrested on Jan. 22 for "divulging state secrets."
Despite his bleak circumstances, Yang encouraged his wife to stand firm in the Holy Spirit and continue to pray for his persecutors.
"After this period of time, my spiritual life will be even more distinctive from the song that says 'A crowd flooded into my kingdom, but they did not want to bear the cross.' You can sing the song," he wrote.
"Let the words of God make you stronger," the pastor added. "You must always pray. Do not live in weakness and confusion; this is Satan's scheme. Be full of the Holy Spirit and leave spiritual predicaments. Seek [to fulfill] all of the Lord's decrees. Remove all of the negative thoughts and voices from your life."
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.