Chinese pastor sentenced to 14 years for peddling ‘superstition’

A man stands in a room in a house church in Puyang, in China's central Henan province on August 13, 2018.
A man stands in a room in a house church in Puyang, in China's central Henan province on August 13, 2018. | GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images

A court in China sentenced a prominent Protestant pastor to 14 years in prison. The pastor’s wife and four church members have also been sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to 10 years. They were all found guilty of purportedly “using superstition to undermine the law.”

The Ganjingzi District People’s Court in the city of Dalian sentenced Pastor Kan Xiaoyong, who's in his 60s, to 14 years in prison, Radio Free Asia reported, adding that his wife, Wang Fengying, received a four-year sentence and the four church members — Chu Xinyu, Zhao Qianjiao, Zhang Songai and Liang Dongzhi — received prison terms ranging from three to 10 years.

Initial expectations for Kan’s sentence exceeded 20 years, RFA said. However, following strong resistance from his lawyers, authorities reduced his sentence. Similarly, Wang’s anticipated sentence was between 15- to 18-years but was ultimately set at four years.

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Despite these reductions, a source emphasized that none of the accused are guilty.

Kan and Wang moved to Dalian from Wuhan in 2018 and established the Home Discipleship Network, an online preaching platform. Their arrest by Dalian police, along with the four other church members, occurred in October 2021. The source was quoted as saying that Kan’s significant online following and the unofficial status of his church posed a threat to the Chinese Communist Party, leading to the crackdown.

Both Kan and Wang said Dalian police tortured them during their interrogations. This allegation was presented in court and not refuted by authorities. Xu Yonghai, an elder of a Beijing house church, commented on the increasing fragmentation of Protestant churches in China due to government pressure.

Bitter Winter, a magazine covering religious liberty and human rights in China, reported that these heavy sentences are part of a broader effort by President Xi Jinping’s government to compel all Protestant churches to join the state-controlled Three-Self Church.

The charges against Kan and his co-defendants included “illegal business practices” and the use of “xie jiao” to undermine law implementation, the magazine said. “Xie jiao,” translated as “heterodox teaching,” is a term often used by Chinese authorities to label groups they consider “cults.” However, Kan’s organization, a typical Protestant house church, does not fit this profile.

Kan, originally from Wuhan, was a successful businessman and hails from a family with connections to the CCP. He and his wife, a former schoolteacher and ballet dancer, shifted to full-time ministry in 2018. Their ministry gained national recognition within the house church circuit. The couple’s 2021 arrest was followed by several days of alleged torture, with evidence presented at trial but dismissed by the judge. The defense team plans to appeal the severe verdict.

Open Doors, an organization that tracks global Christian persecution, provides context to the broader situation in China.

The CCP aims to align churches with its ideology, often targeting unregistered “house churches.” New regulations and digital surveillance have intensified the crackdown on Christian activities.

The most severe persecution occurs in regions where Buddhism or Islam are dominant, with converts to Christianity facing significant threats. However, the pressure is spreading across China, with digital persecution increasingly impacting Christians, especially those in house churches.

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