Police in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan detained a large group of Christians after they gathered for a memorial service on Saturday on the 10th anniversary of the devastating 2008 earthquake.
Pastor Wang Yi of Sichuan's Qiuyu Church was taken away by Qingyang district police in the provincial capital Chengdu late on Friday, according to post by church members on Facebook.
Fellow church member Li Yingqiang was also detained, it said.
Police also raided the earthquake memorial service at the church in Jiangxin Mansions on Chengdu's Taisheng North Road on Saturday morning, detaining all worshipers at the venue and putting them onto two buses, church members told RFA.
They were later taken to "stability maintenance" detention facilities to await police from their home districts.
"This was a prayer meeting for the victims of the May 12, 2008 earthquake, but the police took everybody away, and wouldn't let us pray," Qiuyu church member Liu Tianyan told RFA. "They were all taken away to various police stations and detention centers."
"I don't know exactly how many people were detained, but the pastor was taken away from his home [on Friday] too," she said. "They were all picked up from the detention facility by the police from their districts, but that's all I know."
Calls to several Qiuyu church members rang unanswered on Saturday.
'A big operation'
Shanghai-based pastor Zhang Peihong said that between 70 and 80 people were detained in the operation, and some have already been released.
"It was a pretty big operation, because it's likely that they are going to ban this church," Zhang said. "Most of them are getting out, except for the church elders, the pastors, and the preachers."
"We can't be sure, because no paperwork has been issued, but ... Wang Yi, Li Yingqiang, and Yan Xixia have all been detained," he said. "They also confiscated some bibles and other publications when they went to the church."
An officer who answered the phone at the Taisheng Road police station declined to comment, saying they didn't know the details of the situation.
"You need to contact the propaganda department, because we don't know about that," the officer said.
Ruling Chinese Communist Party officials in the southwestern province of Sichuan declared Saturday's 10th anniversary of the devastating 2008 earthquake a "day of thanksgiving" for reconstruction efforts.
But many quake victims said they are worse off than before and are prevented from speaking out or holding public memorial events for the more than 80,000 people who died in the quake, in particular the thousands of children who died when school buildings collapsed.
Crackdown on religion
Meanwhile, a court in the southwestern province of Guizhou has handed a one-year suspended jail term to a pastor from the Huoshi Church, amid an ever-broadening crackdown on religious activities under the administration of President Xi Jinping.
Su Tianfu was handed the sentence on Friday after the Nanming District People's Court in Guizhou's provincial capital, Guiyang, found him guilty of "deliberately leaking state secrets" at a closed-door trial last month.
Su, who was also sentenced to six months' residential surveillance after being released from police detention, said he has no intention of appealing.
The "state secrets" Su was accused of leaking were a list of church members and their contact details, he told RFA on Monday.
"I was sentenced to one year, suspended for two years," Su said. "As I was leaving the court, they told me to wait to get my copy of the judgement, which I signed, along with a separate authorization for six months' residential surveillance."
"They slapped me with six months' residential surveillance, when I already have a suspended sentence, but never mind," he said. "I have been in a similar situation for the last two-and-a-half years anyway; what's another six months?"
Another pastor charged
Su's suspended sentences come after fellow Huoshi pastor Li Guozhi was handed a two-and-a-half year jail term on the same charge.
Li's wife Wang Hongwu said she had visited her husband in prison last week.
"He will get out on June 19. His health has improved slightly since my last visit," Wang said. "He has been able to stop taking his diabetes medication."
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, which embraces atheism, 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 against the "infiltration of Western hostile forces" in the form of religion.
Reported by Wong Siu-san and Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.