Former Chinese Three-Self Church Pastor Detained For More Than Two Years Without Trial Over 'Fraud' Charges

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Since July 2019, Christian Pastor Hao Zhiwei of Egangqiao Church has been in jail over charges of "fraud" for collecting offerings from her congregants and allegedly preaching without proper credentials. According to her attorney, Si Weijang, this may be the first time a house church pastor was charged with fraud for preaching the gospel.

According to International Christian Concern, Pastor Hao was arrested on July 31, 2019 and has been in police custody for two years and four months. On November 23, the attorney was allowed to meet with Pastor Hao and later gave updates of the pastor and her sons to China Aid. He reported that Pastor Hao's youngest son Moses, who attends middle school, is now suffering from severe depression. Pastor Hao's husband passed away a few years ago, while her oldest son entered college in 2020 and could not fully attend to his younger brother.

Si also reported that Moses dropped out this semester and began locking himself in a room, refusing to interact with people. He also limited himself to one meal a day. Pastor Hao was heartbroken to find out about Moses and reported that her health is not at its best either. Following her two-year detention, she developed acute pancreatitis four times and needed emergency medical attention, almost succumbing to the illness. Si noted that Pastor Hao dramatically lost weight and that half of her hair had turned white.

Yet, Pastor Hao remains steadfast in her faith. The pastor graduated from South Central Seminary 20 years ago and was once offered to preach at Ezhou's Three-Self Church. When she later disagreed with the Religion Bureau's governance on state-sanctioned churches, they rejected her pastor license application in 2007.

Chinese authorities shut down the Ezhou Three-Self Church and converted it into a house church that was later named Egangqiao Church. Pastor Hao served at the church for 18 years. Local Chinese courts initially scheduled Pastor Hao's trial for August 2020, but it had been postponed because of the COVID pandemic.

Meanwhile, China continues to heighten its surveillance on religious groups in the country. CBN News reported in November that a report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) sheds light on the strict measures undertaken by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to oppress religious minorities such as Christian groups. The measures took effect on May 1 this year and are part of the newly issued legislation that added to the revised 2018 Regulations on Religious Affairs (RRA).

The new measures ordered that all clergy members from China's five state-sanctioned religious groups, the Buddhist Association of China, the Chinese Taoist Association, the Islamic Association of China, the Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, will be rigorously monitored and surveilled by the CCP.

It also demands religious clergy "to support the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) rule, the Chinese socialist political system, and the CCP's 'sinicization of religion' policy, effectively imposing a political test to ensure clergies' loyalty to the CCP," the USCIRF report said.

The report also pointed out how Articles 6 and 12 prohibits clergy from participating in "illegal religious activities" and "foreign infiltration using religion."