Americans should reconsider travel to China due to the risk of wrongful detention, the US State Department has warned in an updated travel advisory, with an American Christian identified among those falsely imprisoned.
Pastor David Lin was given a life sentence in 2009, following years of spreading the Gospel inside China.
Last month, Lin was named by U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken alongside two other Americans known to be wrongfully detained in China: Kai Li and Mark Swidan. Their cases were raised directly during a diplomatic visit to Beijing.
In the new circular advisory to citizens visiting China, the U.S says that because of the risk of “arbitrary enforcement of local laws” US travellers should “exercise increased caution".
“I certainly think that anybody who has been involved in speaking out on human rights, even if it's something as small as posting something on social media, needs to be aware of the risks,” Ben Rogers, Chief Executive of Hong Watch, told Premier in relation to the travel dangers.
Speaking to Premier Christian News about whether Britons should also exercise care in treading on communist territory, he advised: “If you're somebody who has no political engagement whatsoever, then the risks are obviously much, much less."
But he warned, “China has engaged in hostage diplomacy at times. So anyone who has an opinion and has expressed that opinion about China, if it's critical of the Chinese regime, needs to be extremely cautious about travelling to China.”
According to religious liberty magazine, Bitter Winter, David Lin was not a believer when he moved from China to the United States. He became a naturalized citizen, and worked as an economist. After coming to faith through his wife he began preaching the Gospel in China in 1999.
China Aid Association, a charity for persecuted believers, says Pastor Lin was detained in 2006 by the Chinese police for helping a house church construct a church building. He was restricted from leaving the country, then arrested in 2009 on suspicion of “contract fraud".
China Aid says his case was handed over to a Chinese court for review, and later that year he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Bitter Winter says that in December 2018, Pastor Lin urged his family in the States to call for his release as his health was deteriorating and he was not receiving proper medical care in jail.
Lin’s family contacted the U.S. Department of State, which led to a visit earlier this year by U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns, to Lin and the two other incarcerated U.S. citizens.
Last month, it was announced that Pastor Lin’s sentence has been reduced to 24 years, and he will leave jail in April 2030. His family, however, doubt whether Lin will survive another eight years of imprisonment.
Ben Rogers is urging Christians to pray for the church in China, which he says is experiencing the worst persecution since the Cultural Revolution. He told Premier:
"We've seen churches destroyed, crosses torn down. Even some churches dynamited and pastors arrested and jailed. So pray for the church.”