Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have stepped up their targeting of unofficial "house" churches not regulated by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ia its Three-Self Protestant Association.
The Zhongfu Wanmin Church in Guangdong's industrial city of Dongguan has been forced to move premises after it received an official letter from the local religious affairs bureau requiring it to "cease all illegal religious activities," its pastor told RFA on Friday.
"A lot of churches are getting these letters saying they are carrying out illegal religious activities now, and requiring them to stop," pastor Li Peng said.
"Some have been forced to stop gathering for worship, while others have been forced to move premises," he said.
"[We have been] inspected and told to stop," Li said. "Then I requested an administrative review, and then I filed a lawsuit, but that failed."
Li said the church is continuing to meet in premises bought with loans taken out by the congregation.
The crackdown in Guangdong comes after authorities in the eastern province of Zhejiang launched a regional campaign targeting visible church crosses for demolition as "illegal structures" in the name of civic pride.
According to Zhang Mingxuan, president of the Chinese House Church Alliance, Guangzhou now seems to be following suit, albeit with slightly different tactics.
"A lot of churches in Guangzhou are being persecuted, including the Guangfu church run by Ma Zhao and others," Zhang said.
"Churches in Shenzhen have also been targeted, but not to the same degree," he added.
Passing out leaflets
Elsewhere in the province, police detained and questioned a woman after she handed out leaflets and tried to spread her Christian faith in Shantou city.
Jiang Junying of the Zhongfu Tongxin Church was detained as she paced the streets of Shantou's Chenghai district, handing out leaflets to passersby during the Chinese New Year holiday in a bid to make new converts to her Protestant faith.
"It was at about noon on the first day of the new year, while she was handing out leaflets about the Gospel," a fellow church member surnamed Guo told RFA.
"She was taken to the Chenghua police station by officers who were from that police station," she said.
"She wasn't released until six or seven in the evening," Guo said. "Now we can't get in touch with her, and we think she's still out there, handing out leaflets."
Guo said police had been keen to identify which church Jiang attends, but that she had refused to answer.
"They asked which church, but she wouldn't tell them. She just said she was handing out leaflets on her own initiative," she said, adding that Jiang cannot speak Mandarin.
Zhang Mingxuan told RFA that the Zhongfu Tongxin church, which Jiang used to attend, has been targeted by the authorities before.
"They moved to new premises, and then on the first day of the New Year, one of their members – Jiang Junying – was detained," Zhang said.
"She went there with a big group of other people to hand out leaflets and spread the Gospel," Zhang said. "They also searched her belongings and kept her locked up there until the evening."
Zhongfu Tongxin Church was forced to abandon its former place of worship after the authorities closed it down, saying its members were "following an illegal religion."
The church was later forced to find new premises after the authorities put pressure on the landlord of the previous property, Guo told RFA.
New CCP guidelines
Earlier this month, the Chinese Communist Party issued new guidelines banning its members from following any religion, even after they retire from official life, amid an ideological campaign by President Xi Jinping targeting any activity seen as "importing" values and cultural practices from overseas.
Xi has cited religion in particular as a means by which "hostile foreign forces" seek to exert a subversive influence in China.
The "opinion" comes on the heels of a months-long campaign by religious affairs officials in Zhejiang province to tear down publicly visible crosses from churches in the region, which is known as "China's Jerusalem" for its high concentration of Protestant believers.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.