Two members of a demolition team who ran over a pastor's wife with a bulldozer as she protested the church demolition have been sentenced for the murder -- but the woman's husband believes their penalties are too light.
In 2016, a government-backed company dispatched personnel to bulldoze Beitou Church in Zhumadian, Henan province, after a local developer wished to take control of the church's valuable property. Church pastor Li Jiangong and his wife, Ding Cuimei, stepped in front of the machinery in an attempt to stop the demolition, according to the report from China Aid.
"Bury them alive for me," a member of the demolition team said. "I will be responsible for their lives."
The bulldozer shoved Li and Ding into a pit and covered their bodies with soil. While Li was able to dig his way free, his wife suffocated under the dirt and died before she could be rescued.
Police later arrested two members of the crew in association with the crime, but the person who ordered the murder is still at large. Late last year, both prisoners received verdicts, with one slated to serve the rest of his life in prison on the charge of "intentional killing," and the other was sentenced to two years for "negligent homicide."
Believing that the sentences were lenient, Li consulted with a lawyer on whether or not he should appeal, but the attorney did not believe they would find favor in court.
However, the story made headlines, government officials decided the church may keep the land. The pastor told China Aid that the church is now doing well, and the number of attendees has increased.
Still, Li continues to mourn the loss of his wife -- and hopes that one day, her murderers will receive adequate punishment: "Each day, my frame of mind is not good," he said. "Losing someone is a blow to my mood. This verdict is not the one we anticipated."
Shortly after the murder took place, China Aid President Bob Fu told Fox News that the incident underscores the serious violations against religious freedom in China that have occurred since President Xi Jinping took office in 2013. It also highlights the Chinese leadership's discomfort with the growing allure of Christianity, whose followers are said to rival in number the 86 million members of the Communist Party.
"He has taken a strong ideological turn to create a new cultural direction," Fu said. "He [Xi] has really turned against the independent churches and any independent social movements. The government wants to contain the growth of Christianity."
While the Chinese Communist Party claims to allows "freedom of religious belief, Open Doors USA has placed the country at 43rd on its World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution.
"The government's goal of maintaining power and social harmony includes the control of all religions, including the quickly growing Christian minority," reads the report.