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Pastor Hao Zhiwei: 8-Year Prison Sentence Confirmed on Appeal

The female pastor from Hubei, was never forgiven for having abandoned the CCP-controlled Three-Self Church, where she was once a rising star.

By Wu Guoxuan

December 27, 2022

Pastor Hao with her deceased husband Zhang Youwu. From Twitter.

This month, the appeal against the decision sentencing Pastor Hao Zhiwei to eight years in jail for “fraud” was dismissed. The first-degree decision, rendered by the Echeng District Court of the prefecture-level city of Ezhou, Hubei Province, on February 11, 2022, was one of the first based on the legal theory that, if a religious community is not part of one of the five authorized religions, it is a “false” religious organization and those who receive donations on its behalf commit the crime of fraud.

Hao Zhiwei was once fully integrated in the system of the five authorized religions and was regarded as a rising star in the Three-Self Church, China’s unified Protestant body controlled by the Communist Party. A native of Shanxi, at age 29 she graduated brilliantly at the Three-Self Theological Seminary of Wuhan, and in 2003 was called to pastor the Three-Self church of Ezhou city. She was regarded as a great preacher promised to a brilliant future within the Three-Self system.

A view of Ezhou city. Credits.

However, while she was ascending in the ranks of the Three-Self Church, she started doubting that the organization was really committed to the progress of Christianity in China. Finally, she realized that its function was just to control Christians on behalf of the Communist Party and limit their activities. In 2007, she left the Three-Self Church, followed by the vast majority of her parishioners, who converted the Three-Self Church of Ezhou into an independent house church, the Egangqiao Church. Her license as a Three-Self pastor was revoked, but Hao was by now doubting that a Three-Self ordination was a valid Christian ordination. In 2013, she was re-ordained by three house church pastors.

In 2018, having lost her husband to cancer, Hao took one year of break from her duties as pastor. This was the opportunity the authorities were waiting for to crack down on the Egangqiao Church while the popular pastor was not there. They ordered the demolition of the church building, with the pretext that it was too close to a Wuhan Iron and Steel Corporation power plant, which was dangerous for the devotees’ health (nobody had raised the problem when the congregation was affiliated with the Three-Self Church).

The church building was surrounded by barbed wire. However, the devotees continued to pass through the wire and access the church. The authorities blamed Pastor Zhao for inspiring the resistance, and detained her on July 31, 2019. In August, the church was demolished. On September 6, Zhao was formally arrested.

She was charged with fraud because her church had collected some Euro 300,000 in donations since it was no longer part of the Three-Self Church. The prosecutor claimed that any solicitation or collection of donations by a Protestant community “without the approval of the Three-Self Church” is by definition fraudulent.

A portion of the appeal decision posted on social media by co-religionists.

This dangerous theory costed Zhao a long term in jail, and has now been upheld on appeal. Zhao’s relatives returned the amount of the donations to parishioners hoping to obtain a lighter sentence, but this failed to persuade the court. The appeal judges insisted that religion outside the system of the five authorized religions can only be “fictional religion.” Two church workers, Hong Ying and Wang Yuanxiang, “confessed,” and escaped with lighter sentences.

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