US calls on China to release jailed pastor

China sentenced Pastor Wang (left) to 9 years in prison. (AP pic)

WASHINGTON: The United States called on China on Tuesday to release Pastor Wang Yi, the leader of an unofficial Protestant church who was sentenced to nine years in prison.

“I am alarmed that Pastor Wang Yi, leader of Chengdu’s Early Rain house church, was tried in secret and sentenced to nine years in prison on trumped-up charges,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter.

“Beijing must release him and end its intensifying repression of Christians and members of all other religious groups,” Pompeo said.

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus described Wang’s arrest as “yet another example of Beijing’s intensification of repression of Chinese Christians and members of other religious groups”.

Ortagus called for his “immediate and unconditional release”.

“We continue to call on Beijing to uphold its international commitments and promises made in its own constitution to promote religious freedom for all individuals, including members of ethnic and religious minorities and those who worship outside of official state-sanctioned institutions,” she said.

Wang was sentenced to prison on Monday for “incitement to subvert state power”.

The charge of inciting subversion has often been used against dissidents as a way to silence criticism of the government and the Communist Party.

Wang was also found guilty of “illegal business operation” by a court in Chengdu, southwest China.

Wang was detained in December 2018 in a raid by authorities in which dozens of members of his “underground church” disappeared.

China’s officially atheist government is wary of any organised movements outside its own control, including religious ones.

Protestants in the country are split between unofficial “house” or “underground” churches like the Early Rain Covenant Church, and state-sanctioned ones where Communist Party songs also feature in the order of service.

Wang’s church was among a number of prominent “underground” churches shut down by the government in 2018 as part of a crackdown on religion, especially on followers of Islam and Christianity.