Authorities in the southwestern province of Guangdong have continued their crackdown on Protestant Christian churches, holding more than a dozen church members for question on suspicion of "illegal assembly."
At least 10 church followers were detained in a police raid on a gathering they held in a restaurant on Nov. 19, in Shaping district of Guangdong's Heshan city, fellow believers told RFA.
"The police burst in on them while were were having a hymn meeting, and they were taken [to the police station] with them," one of the church members said on Thursday. "Some of them even had to sign a letter of guarantee [that they wouldn't worship again]."
The church members were released after promising not to continue to meet, according to a second church member.
"There were about a dozen people gathered, singing hymns, when the police and religious affairs bureau officials showed up," the second church member said. "Some of the women had brought their kids along.
"They told the worshipers with kids to go home, and those without had to go for questioning at the police department," he said. "They threatened them and had them sign guarantees of good behavior."
Repeated calls to the Heshan municipal bureau of religious affairs rang unanswered during office hours on Thursday.
Those detained were all members of the Shaping Church, which is affiliated with the ruling Chinese Communist Party's official Protestant body, the Three-Self Patriotic Association.
But they had gathered outside of official church meetings because they were dissatisfied with the events and style of worship on offer, church members said.
The restaurant owner Guo Yuling, and several key members of the group, were all warned never to meet informally again, they said.
Meanwhile, authorities in Guangdong's Jiangmen city detained 13 members of the Qingcaodi Church in a raid on their Sunday morning service earlier this month.
Splitting into smaller groups
Police and religious affairs bureau officials confiscated Bibles and other church-owned materials before taking the church members to a police station in Jiangmen's Xincheng district, they were questioned.
"On Nov. 5, Zhai Lili, a leader of the Qingcaodi Church, was taken away along with 13 people, who have since been release," a church member who requested anonymity told RFA.
"They are now not allowed to meet at their previous premises, so they have split up into smaller groups."
According to the U.S.-based Christian rights group ChinaAid, Zhai was sentenced to administrative detention, which can be handed down by police to perceived "troublemakers" for up to 15 days without trial.
It was unclear whether she has now been released.
Earlier this month, social media users from the eastern province of Jiangxi showed officials removing images of the cross and Jesus, because the Christian families had "recognized their mistakes and decided not to believe in Jesus but in the party."
Officials said Christians had "voluntarily" removed 624 religious images and posted 453 portraits of Xi, the Asian Catholic news service UCA News reported.
The moves are widely seen as part of a nationwide drive to force China's Christians to show their loyalty to the atheist Communist Party.
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 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 last year against the "infiltration of Western hostile forces" in the form of religion.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.