HONG KONG—An underground Christian pastor has been detained in the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou, the church leader said from an interview in custody.
Pastor Zhang Mingxuan, president of the Association of Chinese Family Churches, was detained with his wife Sunday as the couple traveled by car to Yancheng city in the southeastern province of Jiangsu.
Police stopped the pastor and his wife on the road, taking them to a hotel in the Henan provincial capital Zhengzhou, where Zhang is based.
Several police officers then questioned Zhang about his trip to Beijing earlier in June and about the purpose of his visit to Yancheng.
“I traveled to Beijing recently to meet a Christian who had just come back from the United States. Police questioned me about the meeting and about the man. My detention seems to have been arranged by a request from the police in Beijing who know him well,” Zhang said by telephone while in police custody Monday.
“Another reason they detained me was because I was going to Yancheng, where a church faces forced demolition,” he said.
Zhang said police had promised to free him Tuesday.
The church Zhang planned to visit in Yancheng was erected according to city regulations in 2005 by a group of Christians who raised 5 million yuan (U.S. $732,000) for its construction.
But according to Zhang, developers had coveted the property since 2006 and managed to bring local officials on board, offering the congregation only 2,860,000 yuan (U.S. $419,000) in compensation to evacuate the premises.
Church members refused the deal, but authorities had already ordered the building’s demolition.
Pastor Ding of the Yancheng church said Monday that officials are “planning to demolish our church by force.”
“In fact they already demolished some auxiliary parts of the church in December 2008. We petitioned in the provincial capital of Nanjing and in Beijing several times, but did not get any help at all,” Ding said.
According to Ding, authorities in Yancheng beat up Christian worshippers affiliated with the church when attempting to demolish the church last December, and on June 2 managed to seize parts of the property.
“Because the main building of the church is sinking, we built up a buttress wall to support it at the end of last month,” Ding said.
“But on June 2, scores of security personnel rushed into the church and destroyed the buttress wall. They beat up two old members who were hospitalized that night,” he said.
“We reported the incident to the police the next day, but they didn’t come. We hope that objective media outlets will come to report the news.”
Phone calls to relevant government offices in Yancheng city went unanswered Monday.
June 14-16 is a public holiday in China.
Church groups targeted
China’s unregistered churches are under constant fire from central authorities for operating outside of officially sanctioned religious activities.
Last month, police detained two Christians belonging to a family church in central China for more than two weeks.
The two detainees, Chen Fengming and Qin Gaiying, were part of a 30-member underground congregation who had gathered to pray in Henan province’s Neixiang county when security officers stormed their place of worship.
According to an April 26 statement by the Texas-based religious rights watchdog China Aid, police at the detention center demanded 130 yuan (U.S. $19) from the family members of each detainee to pay for their cost of living.
In total, the group said, police demanded 1,850 yuan (U.S. $270) from family members, also as a “cost of living” payment, but never wrote receipts for the payments.
When asked if the “cost of living” fees constituted a ransom to release the detained Christian believers, a police officer who answered the phone at the Chimei township station said he could not comment because the case had been handled by county-level administrators.
Separately, more than 10 believers and church officials in Luoyang, Henan, were detained May 5 when local authorities raided their house church.
Beijing-based house church activist Fan Yafeng said about one dozen people were detained and family members were told by police to pay 3,000 yuan (U.S. $440) for their release or they would face heavier penalties, including the possibility of "re-education through labor."
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 Fang Yuan 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.