Protestant pastors and church members in China have vowed to continue meeting in spite of draconian new rules forbidding anyone from "organizing others to attend religious events."
Last month, China's cabinet, the State Council, released a set of draconian rules setting out measures aimed at eliminating unofficial Christian worship in unregistered "house churches," and "separatists" among Tibetans and Muslim Uyghurs.
The rules took effect on Oct. 7, and include bans on preaching or running religious events in schools, and on "providing religious services online."
Individuals and groups are also prohibited from "organizing citizens to attend religious training, conferences and activities overseas."
Beijing-based Protestant pastor Xu Yonghai, who heads the Beijing Sheng'ai Protestant Family Church Fellowship, said his group would continue to meet in defiance of the rules, however.
"Article 41 of the revised 'Regulations on Religious Affairs' issued in October makes a reference to 'non-religious groups,' but we know that in fact it is talking about house churches like ours," Xu told RFA in a video statement. "That's how we understand it."
"[Such groups] are not allowed to organize citizens into attending religious activities, religious training etc," he said.
"What this means is that the space for us to express our religious beliefs is getting more and more constricted," Xu said. "There is also less and less scope for Protestant Christians in China to form ties with Protestant Christians overseas."
He said members of unofficial Protestant "house churches" would continue to practice their faith, however.
"We will continue to believe, to study the Bible, and to preach the gospel," he said.
Tough travel restrictions
Provincial governments across China have been adopting their own, localized versions of the rules in recent weeks.
Some of the rules call on government agencies to "take precautions against separatism, terrorism and infiltration by foreign forces."
They also impose restrictions on the acceptance of teaching posts in foreign countries, while a clause forbidding "religious activities in unapproved sites" calls on local governments to extend a nationwide crackdown on house churches.
The last set of revisions to the ruling Chinese Communist Party's "Regulations on Religious Affairs" came in 2006.
There are also signs that the authorities are increasingly imposing travel restrictions on high-profile Christians.
Henan-based pastor Kang Jinqun was denied a passport and travel permit to enter Hong Kong earlier this week, because he has been designated a member of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, which Beijing says is an "evil cult."
Xu, who was banned from traveling to Taiwan earlier this year, said travel bans are an increasingly common way for local authorities to target Chinese Christians
"I wanted to go to Taiwan in February, but [I was told] that there was no way that could happen, and they told me to ask the state security police about it, if I really wanted to complain," Xu said.
"China has changed a lot in the past few years, and a lot of people are now being prevented from leaving the country."
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.