Chinese police detain more than 100 Christian church members in series of raids
The congregation targeted was one of the most prominent unregistered Protestant churches. (Facebook)
Chinese authorities have reportedly detained more than 100 members of an unregistered Christian church and their high-profile pastor, as the Communist Party’s country-wide crackdown on organised religion continues.
- Pastor Wang Yi had accused China of “waging war” against religion
- The raids began on Sunday night and have continued through the week
- China has been tightening controls on unregistered churches
Police raided the homes of members of the Early Rain Covenant Church in the city of Chengdu on Sunday evening, including the home of its outspoken leader, Protestant pastor Wang Yi.
The South China Morning Post reported officials blocked church members’ social media accounts during the raids, and cut off the church’s phone line.
The church said on its Facebook page more church members were detained following further raids on Monday and Tuesday morning, and accused police of physically assaulting some worshippers and stomping on their feet.
Mr Wang and his wife remain in custody, although a couple of other senior church leaders have been released but are still being monitored in their homes.
Enhui Cao, an Early Rain Church member who is also a teacher at the church’s primary school, told the ABC the raids could be a result of Mr Wang’s public criticism of China’s new regulations on religious affairs.
Those regulations, which came into effect in February, required independent “house” church’s like Mr Wang’s to apply for official registration, to be approved or denied by local party cadres.
“As far as faith is concerned, these new regulations are evil; as far as the constitution is concerned, they are illegal; as far as politics is concerned, they are foolish,” Mr Wang wrote earlier this year.
“I intend to peacefully reject this regulation’s legitimacy and implementation.”
The church said in its latest announcement this afternoon that it did not know long those detained would be held for, or whether it would be able to continue sending updates.
“We are like sheep in the midst of wolves, while the police use violent machines and technical means to arrest and threaten gentle and benevolent Christians,” the statement said.
More than 200 members of the church including Mr Wang were also detained in May, when police raided a memorial service they planned to hold for victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
China’s ‘war’ against religion
In a sermon at the Early Rain Covenant Church posted on Facebook two weeks ago, Mr Wang criticised China’s “war” on religion.
He also made reference to the Government’s policies in Tibet and Xinjiang province respectively — two particularly sensitive topics for Chinese officials.
China has been accused of detaining up to 1 million ethnic Uyghurs in secret “re-education camps” across Xinjiang.
“The rulers who are waging this war have chosen for themselves an enemy that can never be imprisoned, an enemy that can never be destroyed, an enemy that can never be subdued or controlled — namely, the soul of man,” Mr Wang said.
“Therefore, they are doomed to lose this war, they are doomed to fail.”
The individual freedom to practice religion is officially guaranteed by China’s constitution, but the Chinese Communist Party has been tightening controls on religious organisations, to ensure they remain loyal to the party.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has also said he wants to “Sinicise” religion — a process that aims to give foreign religions like Islam and Christianity “Chinese characteristics”.
This has seen officials remove and even burn crosses at Christian churches, and destroy domes and other religious symbols at mosques.
Copies of the bible were also reportedly pulled from sale in China’s online bookstores and shopping platforms earlier this year.