Nationwide crackdown on house churches in China: Numerous leaders arrested

China Aid Association has received several credible reports from China that a nationwide campaign against unregistered house churches is underway. Numerous house churches have been raided in recent weeks, hundreds were arrested and many are still in prison.

At approximately 8am, June 24th, 2005, while house church leader, Pastor Chen Dongming was leading a church leadership training meeting at his home in Hezhai Village, Xingkou Town, Qi County, Henan Province, more than 50 Chinese police and public security officials raided and searched his house without a search warrant. About 100 pastors from several major cities including Kaifeng, Xinxiang and Jiaozuo City were taken away and detained at Qi County Detention Center. Most of the pastors were released at approximately 6pm the same day after intensive interrogations. Nine of them, including Pastor Chen Dongming, Pastor Wei and Pastor Jin whose first names are not available, are still jailed. According to eyewitnesses, in the early morning of June 24, more than 50 plain clothed security officers from local Public Security offices surrounded the entire village with three large trucks and many police cars and proceeded immediately to Pastor Chen's house. After bursting into the building the security officers conducted thorough body searches of each of the pastors - both men and women. Private property including cash, chairs, TVs, books, blankets and rice were confiscated and carried away by the police trucks. One pastor who was released said they were accused of "engaging in an illegal religious gathering."

Meanwhile, according to China Aid investigators from different areas inside China, June 3rd, 2005, Chinese boarder control guards detained 34 house church Christians at a customs office called Kashi between China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Pakistan. According to one house church leader who is familiar with this team, all of the 34 Christians were holding legitimate passports and visas from Pakistan. They were arrested when one of them revealed they are Christian missionaries. Most of them were released after serving 15-days in administrative detention centers in their respective hometowns - these include Henan, Hebei, Shandong and others. All of the 34 are now on the run for fear of further repercussion from the Chinese authorities. CAA also learned several hundred house church Christians were detained at Xingjiang Construction Military Corps which consists of a number of large paramilitary units. It was sent by the Chinese Communist Party in the 1950's to suppress the so-called "rebellious Muslims" who resisted the Communist brutal occupation there. After the successful suppression, these units along with their families were ordered to reside there for civilian work. Many have become Christians and secretly hold house church worship services at their homes. According to a representative of one group of house churches there, since 2002 the local authority is increasingly suppressing them with punitive measures such as welfare deduction, arbitrary fines and imprisonment if they are found "believing a religion."

May 24th, three female house church believers were arrested by four PSB officers at Yiyang County, Henan Province while visiting a Christian leader's home. Ms. Liu Lianying (52), Ms. Xue Haimiao (30) and Ms. Zhang Xiulan (21) were all released after 10, 28 and 31 hours of intensive interrogation respectively, at Yiyang County Detention center. None of them were given or shown any arrest warrants or release papers. They were accused of "attending a religious black hole" which refers to house churches there. According to an eyewitness report, the three women were brutally beaten. Ms. Liu Lianying was released earlier because the beatings caused her to suffer a heart attack.

May 13th, twenty house church leaders were arrested while conducting a bible training class at Pinglu County, Shanxi Province. Among them, two well-known local house church leaders, Pastor Zhang Guangmin (45) and Elder Li(who is a resident from Yuncheng city. After releasing most of the participants the same day, Pastor Zhang and Elder Li were released after serving a detention term of two weeks and one month respectively at Pinglu County Detention center.

CAA also confirms that Beijing House church Pastor Cai Zhuohua's trial date has been indefinitely postponed after it was originally scheduled for mid-June. According to a reliable source, the presiding judge from the People's Court of Haidian District, Mr. You Tao, (telephone number +86-10-62697101) recently informed Pastor Cai's mother of this decision by telephone. Pastor Cai's mother has taken care of his 6-year-old son since the arrest of Pastor Cai and his wife and two other relatives last September. According to a copy of the prosecution papers obtained by CAA, Pastor Cai, his wife Ms. Xiao Yunfei and Xiao's brother will be prosecuted on the grounds of "illegal business management" and for allegedly printing over 200,000 copies of Christian literature. Because of Pastor Cai's pastoral leadership at a Beijing house church, five prominent lawyers volunteered to defend Pastor Cai. All five lawyers believe this is a case of religious persecution under the pretext of "illegal business management." Among them, professor Fan Yafeng is currently an associate researcher at the Institute of Studies on Law in China's Academy of Social Sciences which is the top government think tank. According to a credible source, the government has put mounting pressure on Cai's lawyers to discourage them from defending Cai.

Because this occurred prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, this case has attracted international attention. It's widely believed that the delay is a tactic that may give the government time to coordinate damage control once a verdict is pronounced. The raided house churches are independent house churches with thousands of believers who choose not to register their Christian activities with the Communist government.

"This is actually just the tip of the iceberg. China has been proclaiming to the international community that Chinese people are enjoying a golden time of religious freedom, this series of nationwide assaults on unregistered house churches does not support this claim." said Bob Fu, CAA president. "This is also a wakeup call to the world community that it's time to seriously reconsider its appeasing policies toward the issue of China's religious freedom."