Washington, D.C. – U.S. Representative Chris Smith and Senator Marco Rubio released a statement condemning the sentencing of a house church pastor yesterday.
Smith and Rubio, who serve as chair and co-chair, respectively, of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, voiced their concern over the harsh prison term handed to Li Guozhi, who goes by the alias Yang Hua and was tried for “divulging state secrets” on Dec. 26.
Officials originally took Yang into police custody on Dec. 9, 2015, and subjected him to two consecutive, five-day administrative detention periods for “the crime of obstructing justice” and “gathering a crowd to disturb public order” after he tried to prevent authorities from confiscating a church hard drive. When his wife came to collect him on Dec. 20, 2015, she saw him being forced to wear a black hood and herded into an unlicensed vehicle. Upon inquiry, she learned that his charge had been changed to “illegally possessing state secrets,” and that he was being transferred to criminal detention. On Jan. 22, Yang was officially arrested for a fourth charge, “divulging state secrets.”
The prosecutors assigned to Yang’s case subsequently tortured him and threatened his family in an attempt to force him to confess. Despite the lawsuit his defense lawyers brought against the prosecution team and the defendant’s request that they be excluded from his trial, they were not removed from the case.
Additionally, the government allowed the Nanming District Court, which possibly has connections with a state-run center that is dedicating to persecuting Huoshi Church, which Yang pastors, to try the case. This center was given authority to command local government-run departments, including the Nanming District Court, diminishing the probability that Yang’s trial was impartial.
Smith and Rubio responded as follows:
“The harsh sentence given to Pastor Yang Hua (Li Guozhi) is another sad demonstration of China’s efforts to suppress and control independent religious activity. At a time when China is facing enormous social and economic challenges, trampling on the most fundamental rights of religious believers needlessly ostracizes hundreds of millions of peaceful and productive Chinese citizens. We know that countries that protect religious freedom enjoy more economic freedom, more women’s empowerment, more political stability, and less religion-related violence and terrorism. Given the persistent growth of religious belief in China it is unclear why, other than uninformed fear and stubborn ideological orthodoxy, less counterproductive approaches are not being considered. Pastor Yang Hua, and the other Christian leaders from the Living Stone Church, should be released immediately and unconditionally.”
Representative Chris Smith
“I am deeply troubled by the crackdown on Christian leaders associated with Living Stone Church, including Chinese Pastor Yang Hua (Li Guozhi). These believers desire nothing more than to peacefully live out their faith, yet the Chinese government is treating them as enemies of the state as depriving them of their most basic rights.”
Senator Marco Rubio