Three leaders of Linfen Covenant House (‘Shengyue Jiayuan’) Church in China’s northern Shanxi Province have been accused of forming a criminal ‘clique’ and obtaining ‘illegal income’ amounting to 780,000 yuan (approx. £85,000), according to a statement published by the church on 29 June.
According to an indictment sheet shared by the church, the public prosecutors in Yaodu District, Linfen, Shanxi, have brought formal charges against preachers Li Jie, Han Xiaodong and their co-worker Wang Qiang. The indictment alleges that Li and Han, who do not hold religious clergy credentials, established an ‘illegal organisation’ without official approval in Linfen and set up several ‘illegal activity sites’ in the city together with Wang; it also alleges that they ‘lured’ many people into paying tithes and thanksgiving offerings.
Li Jie and Han Xiaodong were taken into RSDL detention (Residential Surveillance in a Designated Location) after the church was raided by more than 100 police officers during an outdoor family event in August 2022. Both were subjected to sleep deprivation for three days and three nights.
They were officially arrested in September 2022, and Wang Qiang was detained in November 2022 and formally arrested in December 2022, all on fraud charges.
For about six months, Linfen police repeatedly summoned and harassed members of the church. Li’s wife and another co-worker were also detained for several weeks on suspicion of fraud before being released on bail.
China Aid reported in February 2023 that members of the church were under huge pressure from the authorities in Linfen, whose coercion and intimidation against the church involve employers, families and relatives, some of whom were forced to fabricate evidence against their leaders and promise that they would not attend the church.
Nonetheless, Li, Han and Wang’s wives have been writing articles in defence of their spouses, insisting on their innocence.
In the statement, the church expressed its shock at the prosecutor’s accusation and said: ‘An issue of citizens’ [freedom of] religion or belief, which is protected by the constitution, has been turned into religious entrapment and fraud by the Yaodu District Procuratorate in Linfen, and a God-believing church has been vilified as a “criminal clique”. This is unheard of since the founding of PRC.’
Li Jie was a signatory of a joint statement following the enactment of the revised Regulations on Religious Affairs in February 2018, which further tightened government control of religious groups. Early Rain Church Pastor Wang Yi, who was one of the leading signatories of the statement, was detained in December 2018 and later jailed for nine years for ‘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 could carry a sentence of more than 10 years.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: ‘These charges levelled against the leaders of Linfen Covenant House Church are 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. This is reminiscent of the 1960s-70s Cultural Revolution, when the population was mobilised to purge religion or belief. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of Li Jie, Han Xiaodong, Wang Qiang, Wang Yi and all religious leaders who have been detained or imprisoned on spurious charges designed to crack down on legitimate religious activities. The international society must make use of every opportunity to urge the Chinese government to stop the prosecution of unregistered religious groups for practicing their religion and peacefully standing up for freedom of religion or belief in China.’