Chinese 'house church' pastor to appeal jail sentence over alleged leak of state secrets

A house church pastor in China is planning to appeal against a two-and-a-half-year jail sentence handed to him by a court in Guizhou province after he was accused of leaking state secrets.

(REUTERS / Jason Lee)A man leaves the Guiyang Intermediate People's Court in Guiyang January 28, 2013.

Li Guozhi, who is also known as Pastor Yang Hua of the Living Stone Church in Guiyang, only learned about the jail sentence last week via mail. The house church pastor pleaded not guilty when he appeared at the Nanming district court in a closed-door hearing on Dec. 26 and was sentenced in absentia days after on Dec. 30, the South China Morning Post details.

The pastor was accused of leaking a document classified as secret by authorities in Guizhou via social media. In an online post, he reportedly forwarded a letter asking people to pray for the Living Stone Church. According to the verdict, the document attached with the post contained a plan to target the church in a crackdown in 2015.

The said crackdown ended with the shutdown of the church and the suspension of its bank accounts, which caused hundreds of its members to be scattered. As of now, several of them meet in houses for their church services. Pastor Li was detained in December 2015 for allegedly disturbing public order and was officially arrested for leaking state secrets the month after that.

At present, Pastor Li remains in Nanming district detention center. Critics say the case is only part of Beijing's renewed crackdown on religious groups unsanctioned by the state.

"The so-called state secret was a document prepared by a temporary city administrative task force calling for the destruction of Living Stone Church," Shandong-based lawyer Zhao Yonglin said. "But the decision itself was illegal and should have been exposed instead."

Wang Hongwu, Li's wife, said she is entrusting the appeal to God. She added that despite the whole ordeal, she is thankful after finding out that her husband has gained the nickname "Jesus" while in prison, speculating that he is always speaking to the inmates about the Lord.

In November, Li wrote a letter to his wife telling her to "pray and wait for God." He also assured her that he feels no anxiety despite his situation and even urged her to prioritize spiritual life over the problems of the world.