Updated: August 18, 2021 07:29 AM GMT
A court in Gong’an county in Jingzhou city in central China’s Hubei province hears a case involving nine Seventh Day Adventist Christians for illegally publishing religious materials in 2019. (Photo: Bitter Winter)
A court in southwest China has handed down lengthy jail terms to four Protestant pastors from the Seventh Day Adventist Church after authorities charged them with fraud in church activities.
The court in Kaili city in Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture of Guizhou province sentenced Zhang Wenying and three other clergy on Aug. 14, reported Bitter Winter magazine. Zhang was sentenced to 12 years and her co-defendants to 3-6 years.
The crackdown on the Adventist community came as authorities in Kaili city accused the clergy of collecting offerings for the church without authorization from the Three-Self Church. It was reportedly the first case against the local Adventist church in about two decades.
The Seventh Day Adventist Church in China is not labeled xie jiao — a group of some 20 cult or belief groups viewed as anti-China or evil cults by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) under President Xi Jinping. Moreover, the Seventh Day Adventists have been part of the Three-Self Church, a state-sanctioned body of Protestant and Evangelical churches, since 1951.
Under China’s regulations on religious affairs adopted in 2018, only the Three-Self Church is authorized to collect gifts and donations for churches and accusations of monetary fraud can bring lengthy prison terms.
Observers say the Adventists’ decision to join the government-controlled church organization was part of their survival strategy in the communist regime.
In 2019, Adventist pastor Zhu Zhongcai and seven others were put on trial and sentenced to five years in jail for publishing religious materials without authorization
However, church leaders and members have faced pressure for years as they demonstrated their Adventist style of church activities beyond the public services permitted under the Three-Self Church.
Churches have held meetings and services in private places and members were more inclined to freely choose and practice self-styled theology rather than what the CCP-controlled bodies dictated. Their members were reportedly more interested in running house churches.
Before and during the infamous Cultural Revolution in the time of Mao Zedong, leaders of the Seventh Day Adventists were arrested and jailed, while public religious activities of churches were forcibly halted.
Although Seventh Day Adventist churches were allowed to operate and tolerated by Chinese authorities, they were kept under a close watch, according to Bitter Winter. Adventist congregations including the one in Kaili city applied for registration certificates but were rejected.
In 2019, Adventist pastor Zhu Zhongcai and seven others were put on trial and sentenced to five years in jail for publishing religious materials without authorization in Jingzhou city of Hubei province in central China. Pastor Zhu and his church co-workers were accused of “illegal business operations” for printing sermons and other faith-related materials — Collection of Sermons, Book of Revelation and the Book of Daniel — and distributing them to the congregation.
Officially atheist China recognizes the legal entity of five religions — Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Islam and Taoism.
For decades, Chinese authorities have strictly controlled official religious groups and persecuted those adhering allegiance to unrecognized or unregistered groups such as the Church of Almighty God and Falun Gong.
Since 2018, under the pretext of the revised regulations on religious affairs, Chinese authorities have shut down hundreds of churches and church-based charities including Catholic-run orphanages on allegations of operating illegally or violating rules by indoctrinating people with religion.
US-based Christian group Open Doors, in its 2021 World Watch List, ranked China 17th among 50 countries where Christians face severe forms of persecution.