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chinese church leaders Linfen Covenant house church.jpg
chinese church leaders Linfen Covenant house church.jpg
World News

Chinese church leaders arrested and accused of illegally amassing £85K

by Heather Preston

Three leaders of Linfen Covenant House Church in China's Shanxi Province have been accused of forming a criminal "clique" and obtaining illegal income of approximately 780,000 yuan (around £85,000).

According to the church, Li Jie, Han Xiaodong, and Wang Qiang have been charged with establishing and running an illegal organisation without state approval.  The indictment also alleges the men lured people into paying tithes and offerings to the church.

House churches are generally considered illegal in China, as they are often unregistered and not sanctioned by the government.

Many churches are either denied registration or choose not to register, due to concerns over governmental control such as submitting to surveillance or pledging allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party.

Li Jie and Han Xiaodong were placed in detention following a church raid in August 2022 and subjected to sleep deprivation for three days and three nights.

The pair were officially arrested in September 2022, while Wang Qiang was detained in November 2022 and formally arrested in December 2022, all on fraud charges.

According to reports from Christian persecution charities Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and China Aid, members of Covenant House Church were repeatedly harassed, coerced and intimidated by local authorities following the arrests, sometimes being forced to provide false evidence and to stop attending church services.

In a "letter of intercession", the Church condemned the prosecution of its leaders saying: "Citizens' religious beliefs, which are protected by the Constitution, have been turned into religious entrapment and fraud."

The church called on people to pray for the safe release of the three men, stressing that Linfen prosecutors had characterised a "God-fearing church" as a "criminal clique" in a move unprecedented since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

In February 2018, China revised its Regulations on Religious Affairs to include registration requirements for religious organisations and criteria, to strengthen state control over religious activities.

One of the accused leaders, Li Jie, was a signatory of a joint statement criticising the revision.  Another signatory to the same statement, Pastor Wang Yi of the Early Rain Church, was detained in December 2018 and later sentenced to nine years in prison on charges of "inciting subversion of state power" and "illegal business operations".

In recent years, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of religious leaders prosecuted with 'fraud' charges - which can carry a sentence of more than ten years.

CSW's Founder and President, Mervyn Thomas, has dubbed the charges against Linfen Covenant House Church's leaders "blatantly unjust".

"This has been made clear by the coercive methods police have used on detainees and church members to extract 'evidence', including RSDL detentions and torture.

"The international society must make use of every opportunity to urge the Chinese government to stop the prosecution of unregistered religious groups for practising their religion, and peacefully standing up for freedom of religion or belief in China."


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