Police in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu have raided two underground Protestant publications, detaining four people, a U.S.-based Christian rights group said Tuesday.
The raids were carried out Monday on the offices and warehouse of the Kernel of Wheat and A Foreign Land magazines in Wenzhou, the Texas-based ChinaAid said in a statement on its website.
"Four of the magazines' most important personnel were taken into police custody," it said. "There has been no further word about them."
The publications are part of China's growing house church movement, a community of Christians who meet in private homes because they cannot register for worship in larger spaces.
Pastor Zhang Mingxuan, who heads the Beijing-based Chinese House Church Alliance said he had also heard the news, but currently lacked details about the arrests.
"I heard ... yesterday that their publications had been searched," Zhang said. "There are a lot of house churches in the Wenzhou area, and I don't yet know which one [the detained people came from]."
"The political atmosphere is very tense right now and the house churches are feeling the pressure, too," he said.
Members of the unofficial Protestant house churches say they continue to be targeted by authorities with detentions, house arrest, and other forms of official harassment.
Hundreds of members of the Shouwang Protestant church have repeatedly been detained by police in Beijing for attending open-air prayer gatherings after the government blocked access to the church's own premises.
Large-scale gatherings for worship in other locations have met with similar harassment from the authorities.
Earlier this week, authorities in the eastern province of Jiangsu detained a Protestant pastor after he was approached by a foreign journalist for an interview.
Zeng Zhengliang, pastor of the Zhongzhuangjia house church in Jianhu county, coastal Jiangsu province, and a member of the Chinese House Church Alliance, was taken away by Jianhu police on March 22, and was not released until Tuesday afternoon.
"A British journalist wanted to interview me, but my phone was being tapped by [police] and they took me away and wouldn't let me stay at home," Zeng said in an interview on Wednesday.
"[They told me that] if I didn't leave with them, they would take me to the place where they lock up petitioners," said Zeng, in a reference to one of China's network of unofficial detention centers known as "black jails."
"They took me to [the popular tourist destination of] Huangshan in Anhui province and a place near Hangzhou in Zhejiang province," he said. "We left on Thursday and I got back home on Monday afternoon."
An officer who answered the phone at the Zhongzhuangjia police station near Zeng's home declined to comment on the incident, although he didn't deny it.
"Zeng Zhengliang's at home, isn't he," the officer said. "As for him being taken somewhere on a trip, I don't know. You'll have to ask around."
"You'll have to ask our leaders," he said.
ChinaAid said it "strongly condemned" both police actions.
While leaders of China's unofficial churches, which overseas groups estimate as having some 40 million followers, say their activities have little to do with politics or human rights, raids on unofficial worship have been stepped up in a recent nationwide security clampdown.
Protestant worshipers in Sichuan have recently come under heavy pressure from local officials to register with China's official Protestant body, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement.
House churches, which operate without official registration documents and without the involvement of the local religious affairs bureaus, come in for surveillance and repeated raids, especially in the more rural areas of the country, according to overseas rights groups.
Officially an atheist country, China nonetheless has an army of officials whose job is to watch over faith-based activities, which have spread rapidly in the wake of massive social change and economic uncertainty since economic reforms began 30 years ago.
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. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.