CHINA – Several Christians arrested in raids on house churches
Chinese authorities are increasingly cracking down on Christians who come together to worship in what the state calls ‘illegal gatherings’. Christians of all denominations in China must register as members of the government-run Three Self Church. These officially sanctioned churches are heavily monitored and controlled by the state, which even exerts considerable influence on the appointment of new bishops. This has led to conflicts and strained relations with the Vatican.
However, many Christians are refusing to join the official state-controlled church and instead attend “underground churches” outside of government control. As the number of these “underground churches” increases, the authorities have stepped up their efforts to close them down.
More than 20 police officers raided a house church in the Sichuan province in the south-west of the country. A group of 15 Chinese Christians taking part in a Bible study there were detained and charged with ‘illegally gathering a crowd to disturb public order’ according to the human rights organisation China Aid. All those found at the house church were detained for 15 days by police who also confiscated the church seating, projectors and air conditioning.
In a separate incident police officers raided two house churches in the southern province of Guangdong. At least ten government officials interrupted a prayer meeting at Olive Church on 19 March. Twenty members of the congregation were detained and accused of lacking the authorisation to conduct religious meetings but were released later on the same day.
A second church in the province was also raided and had its possessions seized. The church has since split up into smaller groups which meet in different locations for the safety of its members.
Christians in a village in Shanxi province have resorted to praying privately in their homes after Chinese authorities forcibly closed down the so-called “house churches.”
Persecution in China increased in 2016, according to the Religious Freedom in the World report produced by Aid to the Church in Need. The number of detained Christians rose from at least 19,426 in 2015 to about 48,100 in 2016. 278 abuse cases were also reported, including physical, verbal, mental abuse and torture — 42.6% more than in 2015.