HONG KONG—A prominent underground church leader in northern China has voiced concern over the fate of worshipers detained over the weekend.
Zhang Mingxuan, chairman of the China Association of House Churches, said that the worshipers had been warned over their attempts to contact him and that he is worried about their treatment in detention.
“The detained Christians had contacts with us. They were openly active in the Handan area and this is why the local government is angry at them,” Zhang said, referring to a city in the south of Hebei province.
“They always wanted to cooperate with the China Association of House Churches, and this is why they were targeted in a crackdown,” he said.
Police and staff members from the Handan City Bureau of Religious Management stormed the house church congregation Saturday, detaining between 20 and 30 worshipers.
Among those detained were Pastor Li Cuixiang, a member of the government-banned China Association of House Churches, and Wu Jianghe, a pastor from a house church in neighboring Beijing municipality. Police have threatened to keep the church members locked up for two weeks.
One of the detainees was able to telephone a friend before his cell phone was confiscated, and revealed that the group was being held in an unknown detention center in Handan.
Calls to the cell phones of pastors Li and Wu went unanswered Monday.
On Sunday, the U.S.-based China Aid Association, a religious freedom watchdog in China, urged Chinese authorities to immediately release all detained Christians in Handan.
China Aid Association said in a separate development that security personnel had raided a Christian congregation on Dec. 25 in Korla city in China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Five worshipers were detained in the raid on Puhui Farm and security personnel burned 30 books, including a Bible.
Zhou Xia, a Christian from the Puhui Farm congregation, said Monday that “the chief of the farm and security personnel searched our homes and seized copies of the Bible.”
She added that although the five worshipers had been released, each was made to pay a 5,000 yuan (U.S. $730) fine and was warned not to contact any Christians.
New crackdown on churches
Pastor Zhan Gang, secretary general of the China Association of House Churches, protested the new crackdown on house churches in China.
“Our organization condemns these crackdowns. The persecuted are our brothers and sisters, and we are infuriated by the harassment and suppression they have suffered,” he said.
"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 more rural areas of the country, according to overseas rights groups.
Officially an atheist country, China 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 unapproved 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 is permitted to varying degrees around China.
Original reporting by Xin Yu for RFA’s Mandarin service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Ping Chen. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.