A female pastor in China's Hubei province has been sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of "fraud for preaching the Gospel" after her house church refused to join the state-run church, which monitors and regulates Protestant churches.
After being in police custody for two and a half years, earlier this month, Echeng District Court in Ezhou in Hubei province sentenced Pastor Hao Zhiwei, who led a house church in Ezhou.
Hao, 51, was arrested in 2019 after she refused to join the Three-Self Church, UCA News reports. Her lawyer, Si Weijiang, said that she was charged for preaching the gospel and receiving donations from church members outside of the permission of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches and the Christian Council.
According to The Christian Post, Si noted that while several house church pastors have been arrested for fraud, Hao is the first in the country to be implicated in a fraud case.
According to the watchdog group Church in Chains, Hao's church building was demolished in 2019 amid ongoing persecution.
The watchdog group also noted that in 2018, the Chinese Communist Party replaced its 2005 Regulations for Religious Affairs with a new version in an attempt to force house churches to join state-controlled religious organizations.
The party used cross removal, the sealing and demolishing of church buildings, banning of church offerings and "Sinicization" to try to coerce churches into joining the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. Sinicization is the practice of incorporating Chinese culture, religious and political ideology into Christianity.
"Other charges include: 'illegal business operations,' 'inciting subversion of state power,' 'picking quarrels and provoking trouble,' and so on. These charges are thorns on loyal preacher's head and God's crown for His loyal servants," the group added.
Hao is survived by her two sons. Her husband passed away several years ago. According to the watchdog group International Christian Concern (ICC), Hao's youngest son, Moses, attends middle school and suffers from depression.
"Her husband passed away a few years ago, and her oldest son started college in 2020, so he can no longer take care of his younger brother. Moses dropped out this semester and began locking himself in a room. He refuses to interact with people and only has one meal per day," ICC said.
The group also noted that Hao's health is deteriorating in prison, and she has lost a significant amount of weight.
"After being detained for more than two years, she has developed acute pancreatitis four times and was sent to the emergency room. She nearly lost her life," ICC said.
Despite being imprisoned for preaching the Gospel, Hao has "strong faith that she can be released without charge."
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Rattankun Thongbun
Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. He is also the co-hosts of the For Your Soul podcast, which seeks to equip the church with biblical truth and sound doctrine. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.