The U.S. State Department has denounced the Chinese government’s decision to shut down a memorial service held in honor of tens of thousands of people killed during an earthquake a decade ago. Chinese authorities reportedly stormed the Church prior to the service and arrested pastor Wang Yi, leader of the independent “Early Rain Covenant Church” that sought to remember the 70,000 people who were lost in the massive earthquake that raged across Sichuan Province in southwest China on May 12, 2008.
“We are deeply concerned by the Chinese government’s reported harassment of the Early Rain Covenant Church, in Chengdu, Sichuan Province after they planned to hold a memorial service on May 12, for the victims of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.
“The United States government joins the people of China in mourning the loss of tens of thousands of lives in the tragedy, and notes the value of memorializing their lives and calling for full accountability to prevent or mitigate future disasters.”
As mourners began to arrive for the service on Saturday, they were apprehended by police. Authorities indiscriminately arrested many of those who sought to pay their respects to loved ones lost in the natural disaster. “Today more than 200 brothers and sisters were taken away by the police, and three still have not been released,” Wang told his parish following the incident, according to the New York Times.
Clearly part of a wider crackdown, the Chinese authorities also used trucks to remove publications belonging to the church
It appears that the ruling Communist Party is concerned that such a gathering could revive tough questions as to why so many brand new buildings, including schools, collapsed in the quake. According to the South China Morning Post, grieving parents who have found the courage to challenge the government over its clear failings in the inadequate construction of the devastated schools have been subject to round-the-clock surveillance, police intimidation, and even detention.
Over 1,000 students of Beichuan Middle School were killed when the school crumbled under the force of the quake, and almost half of them remain buried deep under the ruins, according to parents and activists.
Mr. Wang has been a long-time critic of the Chinese government’s blatant religious discrimination but has never faced such a blatant form of persecution. For a number of years, the pastor has actively resisted the stringent oversight that the Chinese government enforces upon congregations of faith. Wang’s wife, Jiang Rong, said that an official the religious affairs bureau had told her husband that “the church assembly was unlawful and banned and then the police read out another notice that accused Wang Yi of provoking trouble.”
Another church leader, Li Yingqiang, was initially held for questioning before being released on Saturday night.
Ms. Jiang also shared a shocking video that showed Mr. Wang repeatedly asking police officers what they were accusing him of. The officers had did not respond with any clear-cut charge. Dissenters against the government are often lumped with the wide-ranging charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”
“This is our shared pain, shared trauma, and is also our shared memory,” Mr. Wang wrote about the memorial service published on Thursday, posted to the church’s Facebook page. “Although man-made calamity has overshadowed natural disaster, grace is greater than evil. May the Lord Jesus Christ grant healing on our souls, and grant true hope on this land.”
Pray for these faithful men and women, who are seeking justice for their loved ones. May God uphold them!