HONG KONG—At least 10 members of an unofficial "house" church in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu have been injured after a local property developer launched an unannounced eviction raid Wednesday on the building where their meetings were being held.
"They are developing this plot of land, and they wanted the land on which our church is built," a pastor surnamed Ding at the Chengnan Church in the Pinghu district of Yancheng city said.
"No agreement had been reached, and they hadn't even carried out a valuation of the property. A deputy secretary from the municipal government led the gang—there were more than 200 people," Ding said.
They took away our banner with the words 'God loves humanity.'"
Detained church member in Sichuan
He said the church, which can hold a congregation of 200, and attached buildings, had been built with donations of more than 1 million yuan from church members.
The government-led gang evicted those praying in the church and sealed off the church buildings with a demolition notice, he added.
"At that time many church members were praying in the church. They dragged us forcibly out of the church and confiscated all our property, including food and cash. We resisted. They were acting just like robbers. They stole all our things," Ding said.
Beatings reported, no response
He said several members of the church had previously been attacked by unidentified men, after the church refused a compensation deal offered by the government.
"After the assault, we reported it to the police, but there has been no word on this. We think the developer and the local government are on the same side and want us to sell the land cheap," he said.
A woman surnamed Zhao who answered the phone line of the Yancheng municipal Party secretary hung up immediately when contacted Wednesday.
The church is now closed, and 200 of its resident members are now homeless, Ding said.
In a related development, around 30 people were detained, although all were later released, after authorities in the southwestern province of Sichuan raided a wedding celebration at an unofficial Christian church in Dazhu county.
"The religious affairs office accused us of illegally spreading the gospel," one of the detained members, surnamed Su, said following his release.
"They took away our banner with the words 'God loves humanity.' They checked our identification cards and threatened that we would be forced to attend only those churches with registration documents recognized by the government," he said.
Christianity is gaining new converts in Chinese cities and towns, especially among the newly emerging and assertive professional class, and the trend is causing the ruling Communist Party some concern, experts say.
"House" churches, which operate without official registration documents and without the involvement of the local religious affairs bureaux, come in for surveillance and repeated raids, especially in 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 watch over Catholics, Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, and Protestants. Judaism isn't recognized, and worship in non-recognized temples, churches, or mosques is against the law.
In its most recent report on human rights in China, the U.S. State Department said freedom of religion was permitted to varying degrees around China.
"Freedom to participate in officially sanctioned religious activity continued to increase in most areas," it said, adding:
"Severe crackdowns against unregistered Protestants and Catholics, Muslims, and Tibetan Buddhists continued, and the government increased its control over some peaceful religious practices."
Original reporting in Cantonese by Fung Yat-yiu, and in Mandarin by Ding Xiao. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.