By Daniel Harris
01/06/2017 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Wang Yanfang shuffled into a room in the prison encircled by policemen. She looked up at her husband and saw how he had turned pale from the lack of sunlight and weak from the lack of exercise. She wondered what they could talk about with so many ears listening. If only one of them did not like what she had to say, she would not be allowed to visit again. This was the second and last time she met with him in 2016.
Both meetings lasted only 30 minutes. Both were conducted in the presence of five or six officers. They were not allowed to discuss anything outside the prison and an honest discussion of conditions inside the prison was restricted by the police presence. What she does know is that conditions are severe. Twenty to 30 men are packed into a small cell with almost no light. The food is bad and medical services are severely limited. It is the type of environment designed to make a person waste away.
Before this year, the last time she saw her husband was the day he was taken away: May 16, 2014. Wang was there that day, sitting with him on the couch for two hours as they watched officers rummage through their belongings. They were not allowed to move or call anyone. He was being arrested for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.”
The arrest came at a tense time in Chinese politics. It was the months leading up to the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, an event which China goes to great lengths to hide and deny. In preparation for the anniversary, China implemented a massive crackdown on anyone who may try to commemorate the event. Tang Jingling’s arrest was just one of many—152 according to the Chinese Human Rights Defenders.
Tang might have seen this coming. He was a prominent human rights activist who opposed some of China’s draconian policies. His career began more “innocently” in the field of chemistry, but the more he learned about human rights abuses in China the more he felt that he had to do something about what he saw. He went back to school for law and passed the bar exam in 1997. He defended workers’ rights, took on cases of poisoned vaccines, started an organization for non-violent civil disobedience, and became involved in Tiananmen Square commemorations. His license to practice law was revoked in 2005, but he kept working and advising others.
If this was not enough to make him a target of the state, he became a Christian in 2009 and got involved in the Church. His faith motivated him to work even harder in the fight for justice. Beijing needed to stop him, so they made up charges. By the day of his conviction on January 29, 2016, his indictment for possessing “works of non-violent, civil disobedience,” “renting an apartment to exchange information and store materials, and their participation in a number of human rights activities” had evolved to “inciting subversion of state power.” He was given five years in prison.
During a statement made on the day of his conviction, Tang said,
The Holy Bible has a passage that reads: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” Today, we have been pronounced guilty, thrown in prison, separated from our families, and have endured humiliation and difficulties—and I am far from being able to convince or prove to others how these tribulations could have become my blessings. But God’s will is inevitably difficult to understand. I often pray and ask him to give me more strength, so that I may persevere until the moment of revelation. I dare say, in 2011, while in a secret jail, and now in detention, almost every day I have passed has been calm and fulfilling. I have never lost my direction.
Wang says that although the prison technically has a policy of allowing prisoners to have a Bible in their cell, Tang is still denied this right. “His faith strengthened his pursuit for justice,” she recalls. “The Bible is the foundation of his faith and pursuit.”
Wang has endured her own share of persecution. She told International Christian Concern (ICC) in an interview, “I was harassed, tracked, detained for five months, and I lost my job. I survived all of this because of my faith in Jesus Christ…and I realize I cannot rely on people or anything else but God alone.”
Her husband is now nearly two years through his five year sentence. She is waiting for his release and hoping to attend seminary while she waits. When asked how we can be praying for her, she told ICC, “I hope you can pray for my husband, for his physical and emotional well-being. Also pray for me so that I can have wisdom to handle everything whether I am in America or China and to keep growing in the Lord.” She added, “I hope Christians in America can appeal to the Chinese government for religious freedom, not only for Christianity but also for other religions…”
ICC supports the families of human rights activists like Tang Jingling who are defending religious freedom in China. To learn more about how you can support ICCs work, please visit: www.persecution.org.