A Christian couple in China have each been sentenced to seven years in prison and a fine of RMB 250,000 (approximately £29,240) for “illegal business operations,” after their appeals were rejected.
According to the Chinese human rights site Weiquanwang, Chang Yuchun and Li Chenhui, from Shaanxi province, lost their appeal on 15 November. The report says that the couple’s registered printing company produced a large number of Christian books before being seized by the local authorities on 21 July 2020. More than 210,000 copies of various religious books were confiscated and at least 24 titles were later deemed to be “illegal publications.”
On 19 August 2021, Chang and Li were sentenced to seven years' imprisonment and a fine of RMB 250,000 by the Xi'an Gaoling District Court for the crime of “illegal business operations.” They appealed against the sentence, but it was upheld in the 15 November trial.
This is the latest case of Christians being accused of “illegal business operations” in connection with printing religious books. A May 2021 briefing by CSW on the nationwide crackdown on religious materials cited the case of Chen Yu, who was also sentenced to seven years in prison in September 2020 for Illegal business operations. After Chen was arrested, officials began a nationwide investigation of those who bought Christian texts from his online bookshop, Xiaomai (‘Wheat’) Bookstore. Officials also demanded that customers who purchased ‘Transformation of the Gospel’ by Pastor Wang Yi return it. Pastor Wang was sentenced to nine years in prison in December 2019 on charges of ‘inciting to subvert state power’ and ‘illegal business operations.’
Wang Yi is the pastor of Early Rain Church, which has been subject to constant harassment by the authorities. On 17 November, several members of Qingcaodi Church in Deyang, Sichuan, a church planted by Early Rain Church, were arrested, including elder Wu Jiannan and retired church leader Hao Ming. Although the others have been released, both Wu and Hao have been criminally detained. The church is reportedly considered an illegal organisation by the Sichuan Provincial authorities, as is Early Rain Church.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “The sentencing of Chang Yuchun and Li Chenhui is another demonstration of the authorities’ ongoing crackdown on the printing and dissemination of religious books. As CSW’s briefing notes, control over the publication and sale of religious books has increased significantly under the leadership of Xi Jinping. Those who attempt to publish religious literature are paying the price, while the crackdown also restricts religious communities’ access to information. We urge the authorities to reverse this policy, to uphold the rights to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression, and to release Chang Yuchun, Li Chenhui and Chen Yu immediately and without condition. We further call on the government to end the harassment and arrest of members of Early Rain Church, Qingcaodi Church and Xuncheng Church, and that of many other churches across the country facing similar violations.”