Authorities in Shanghai launched a crackdown on unofficial Protestant churches over Christmas, raiding meetings and threatening to deport a South Korean pastor.
Pastor Zhang Mingxuan, who heads the nationwide Protestant Chinese House Church Alliance, said police raided the Zhenguang house church in Shanghai's Pudong New District on Sunday.
"They were having a meeting, and the police charged in, and detained a South Korean pastor for two hours," Zhang said in an interview on Friday.
"They let him out, but they are going to repatriate him," he said.
A Zhenguang church member surnamed Liu said she had been present at the service.
"They dragged Pastor Hu away as he was giving his sermon," she said."He was ordered to leave the country immediately and to return to South Korea."
She said police had taken the names and addresses of all present at the service, and questioned them regarding any involvement with the doomsday cult Quanneng Shen, or Eastern Lightning.
"They told us on no account to have any dealings with the Eastern Lightning group, and we told them that we don't have anything to do with evil cults," Liu said.
"There is a lot of publicity material around here from Eastern Lightning," she added. "Their leaflets are everywhere."
Following violent clashes between police and the Quanneng Shen ("Almighty God"), or Eastern Lightning, sect in central China this month, police have detained more than than 400 sect members in northwestern Qinghai province.
The move follows a nationwide campaign to root out the pseudo-religious group that authorities believe advocates doomsday theories and confrontation with the ruling Chinese Communist Party and government, according to official media reports.
The sect, which has been designated an "evil cult" by the authorities, "uses the name of Christianity to recruit members, expands its influence through illicit means, and carries out illegal underground activities and crimes," the China Daily said in a recent report.
Repeated calls to the Zhenguang house church office in the Xiangshan New Village residential compound went unanswered during office hours on Friday.
But a Zhenguang member who declined to be identified said the church had now changed its phone number.
"I haven't heard from them recently, because things have been very tense recently," she said. "This has never happened to them before, and they are frightened."
"This is a newly established church. It has only existed for a couple of years," she added.
She said Zhenguang had a following of 20-30 believers. "I don't know why they got raided. I think it's pretty strange."
The U.S.-based Christian rights group ChinaAid said the detained pastor was surnamed Hu, and was taken away in the middle of giving his sermon.
Police officers raided the service on Sunday, along with officials from the municipal religious affairs bureau, grabbed Hu, and ordered the congregation to disperse, ChinaAid said in a statement on its website.
"Hu was held for two hours and...told he would be expelled from China," the group said.
Late by a week
Meanwhile, police in the eastern province of Shandong warned members of another house church not to gather over Christmas, followers said, prompting them to hold their festivities a week late.
"Christmas should have been last week, but we are holding it a week late," said a follower of a house church in Shandong's Dongying city surnamed Liu.
The group had come under increasing pressure to join China's official Three Self Protestant Association and subject itself to official regulation, he added.
"It's because there are a lot of us," he said. "But it's not good for our brothers and sisters to always worship separately."
"We want to buy a larger place, but they won't let us build a church, and the Three Self Association took away our land and demolished our old place," Liu said.
He said many of China's unofficial Protestants were coming under pressure from police now.
And in the southwestern province of Sichuan, more than 1,000 Protestants had been warned by police not to gather over Christmas, according to local pastor Li Ming.
"The police are harassing us and threatening us," Li said. "But they haven't detained us."
"They are putting pressure on us not to gather for worship, not to do anything, but we do it anyway; they haven't taken any action," he said.
Officially an atheist country, China nonetheless has an army of officials whose job is to watch over faith-based activities, which have spread rapidly.
Party officials are put in charge of Catholics, Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, and Protestants. Judaism isn't recognized, and worship in nonrecognized temples, churches, or mosques is against the law.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service and Fung Yat-yiu for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.