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Rights group calls for release of Protestant pastor

HONG KONG (UCAN): Human Rights Watch called on Chinese authorities to immediately release Pastor Wang Yi and scores of members of the Early Rain Covenant Church, in the southwestern city of Chengdu in Sichuan province.
On December 9 and 10, police in Chengdu arrested Pastor Wang Yi and more than 100 member of the Protestant Church which is not registered with the government.
Human Rights Watch said on December 14 that authorities should also return Church properties and allow the members to resume worship services.
“The shutdown of a Protestant church in Chengdu epitomises the Xi Jinping government’s relentless assault on religious freedom in China,” said Yaqiu Wang, Human Rights Watch’s China researcher.
“It makes a mockery of the government’s claim that it respects religious beliefs,” Wang said.
Authorities also ransacked and sealed Early Rain Covenant Church’s properties, including its offices, a kindergarten, a seminary, a Bible college and searched the homes of many members.
The police also forced members to sign a pledge that they would not attend services again and blocked them from going to the Church schools. The Church’s accounts on WeChat were also removed.
Some Church members, who were later released, said police had beaten them and that dozens of members remained in police custody, the rights group said.
The pastor, Wang Yi, was being held on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power,” according to his mother.
Wang Yi, a prominent member of China’s Christian community and a former legal scholar, is known for making impassioned sermons and being an outspoken critic of the Communist Party.
Shortly before his arrest, Wang Yi had published an essay critical of the government’s tight control over religion and called on China’s Christians to carry out acts of civil disobedience, such as resisting government orders not to preach outside of church premises or prohibiting children from attending church.
Two days after he was taken into custody, a statement he had drafted in anticipation of being detained was posted online. 
In it he vowed to “use peaceful means … to resist every and all governmental and judicial measures that persecute the church and interfere with Christian belief.”

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