As the Chinese government continues to target members and leaders of Early Rain Covenant Church, a prominent house church in Chengdu, some have fled the country in search of asylum.
Seven months after police cracked down on the church, Pastor Wang Yi remains in detention without access to his lawyer, Zhang Peihong. Chinese authorities detained Wang on charges of incitement to subvert state power, and they have added the charge of running an illegal business, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.
A local Christian told RFA that authorities likely added the second charge because they lacked sufficient evidence of subversion. Church elders Li Yingqiang and Zhang Defu are also being held on charges of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” and running an illegal business. Wang had been an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party’s crackdown on Christianity.
Earlier this month, six church members flew to the self-governed island of Taiwan on medical tourist visas and have applied for a visa extension to seek asylum in the United States. Liao Qiang, who came to Taiwan with six members of his family, told RFA that police pressured him to renounce his church, but he refused. His daughter Ren Ruiting said she had to report her whereabouts to the police when she went out.
Another Early Rain member named Li told RFA that “around 50 to 60 percent of Early Rain members are currently under surveillance right now.” The scrutiny prevents them from meeting in groups of more than five or six.
China cracked down on Early Rain in December 2018, raiding homes and arresting more than 100 people. Authorities have released most of them, including Wang’s wife, Jiang Rong. Freed Early Rain members told ChinaAid that authorities forced them to slander Wang and church elders. Guards shackled the wrists and ankles of arrestees who refused to renounce the church and prevented them from sleeping. —Julia A. Seymour