A court in the southwestern Chinese region of Guangxi has jailed a Protestant Christian for four years for proselytizing to the local chief of police.
You Congyun was handed the sentence by the Luchuan County People's Court, which found him guilty of charges relating to an "evil cult."
You had sent tracts promoting the teachings of the Eastern Lightning Protestant sect which also goes by the name Church of Almighty God, and which has been extensively targeted by the ruling Chinese Communist Party in a nationwide crackdown on unofficial religious groups.
You was accused of mailing 18 copies of handwritten, photocopied pamphlets titled "The New Eternal Gospel" of the Church of Almighty God to the director of the Luchuan county police department, among other officials, according to a post on the police department's official account on the social media platform Sina Weibo.
He was convicted of "using an evil cult organization to undermine the law," the post said, adding that he had served three years in prison on the same charge in May 2015.
You was initially held on administrative detention for 15 days on Nov. 9, 2018, but continued to be held under criminal detention after the sentence ended. He was formally arrested on Nov. 27, 2018.
A fellow Almighty God church member and former police officer surnamed Li said she had fled overseas to escape the current wave of religious persecution in China.
"According to documents we know about, the authorities began secretly detaining members of the Church of Almighty God from the time it was established in 1991," Li told RFA. "In 2014, they started detaining them openly."
"There were a lot of secret documents directing the arrests of followers of the Falun Gong [spiritual movement], the Church of Almighty God, and a few house churches," she said. "They said that they should be beaten to death [and the death treated as suicide], but I only saw a small proportion of those documents."
"China has always banned religions; it is a life and death struggle."
Detention, torture common
Li said it was a common occurrence for members of the church to be secretly detained, tortured, and brainwashed, and all evidence removed.
Officials had also forced church followers to give up their religious beliefs and activities through a combination of surveillance, bullying, and harassment, as well as confiscation of family property.
You's sentence comes after a court in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, handed down jail terms of four years each to a married couple on March 27 for participating in the church's activities.
Meanwhile, authorities in the eastern province of Shandong have begun a new wave of church and cross demolitions, RFA has learned.
An inspection team dispatched by the State Bureau of Religious Affairs of the State Council was dispatched to Shandong's Linyi city this month to coordinate the cross demolition program, church members told RFA.
Religious affairs officials from Beijing are also conducting a campaign targeting "house churches," including those that have joined the Communist Party's Three-Self Patriotic Association of officially recognized Protestant churches.
Similar teams have been deployed throughout Shandong to begin tearing down visible crosses from churches on orders from Beijing, a church member who asked to remain anonymous said.
They will also be enforcing rules banning anyone under the age of 18 from entering a church, or from taking part in any kind of educational activity run by a church, the church member said.
Calls to the Shandong provincial religious affairs bureau rang unanswered during office hours on Thursday.
Crosses torn down
A house church pastor in Linyi said he knew of three churches in the city that had received notices that their crosses would be demolished in recent days.
"For Three-Self churches, they have to remove their crosses, and all children under 18 are prohibited from entering the church," the pastor said.
"We have been notified that our cross must be removed and that children under 18 are banned from coming to the church," he said. "These notices are being issued by the Linyi authorities."
Local governments across China are targeting independent churches with stringent new restrictions on religious practices.
Officials have required that video surveillance equipment be installed in churches and members' information be handed over, while banning the sale of Bibles online, and demolishing churches or visible crosses in some areas of China, rights groups say.
China is home to an estimated 68 million Protestants, of whom 23 million worship in state-affiliated churches, and some nine million Catholics, 5.7 million of whom are in state-sponsored organizations.
But the ruling Chinese Communist Party, which embraces atheism, exercises tight control over any form of religious practice among its citizens.
The administration of President Xi Jinping regards Christianity as a dangerous foreign import, with officials warning against the "infiltration of Western hostile forces" in the form of religion.
Reported by Ma Lap-hak and Fok Leung-kiu for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.