Police, Officials Raid Bible Study Group in China's Guiyang

2021-03-18
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Police, Officials Raid Bible Study Group in China's Guiyang The interior of a house church in Puyang, in central China's Henan province, is shown in an Aug. 13, 2018 photo.
AFP

Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Guizhou have raided a Protestant house church, detaining at least 10 people for questioning, RFA has learned.

The raid came amid a Bible study group meeting held by the Ren'ai Reformed Church in Guizhou's provincial capital, Guiyang, on Tuesday morning.

"The Ren'ai Reformed Church was raided by officials including the civil affairs bureau and the police on the morning of March 16," a local Christian who gave only a surname, Huang, told RFA on Wednesday.

"More than a dozen of our brothers and sisters were taken away [by police]."

Huang said a church elder, Zhang Chulei, was also detained after going to the police station at around 5.00 p.m. on Tuesday to inquire after the others.

"I heard that they called him in for questioning," Huang said. "Many of them have yet to be released, including Zhang Chunlei."

Another Christian who lives in Guiyang, who gave only a surname, Li, said it had been rare for members of Protestant "house churches" to meet in person since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Lately it has been mostly online meetings, with no offline gatherings," Li said. "Offline gatherings are restricted."

"Sometimes we will gather in small groups of around a dozen people, or just a few people," he said. "Large-scale gatherings are definitely banned."

Zhang, who leads the church, was one of the first Protestant pastors to sign a Declaration of the Christian Faith started by jailed pastor Wang Yi.

Prior to the raid, he had already been subjected to repeated surveillance and harassment by the state security police and barred from participating in any religious activities, and from communicating with other church members.

Pandemic restrictions

Li said the reason for the sudden raid was unknown, although the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has strict rules about what can be considered a "house church."

"As far as we can tell, the [CCP's] United Front Work Department and the secret agencies of the Chinese government have their own definition of what can be called a house church in China," Li said.

"They think it should refer to a family gathering with only relatives present," he said.

Currently, religious meetings involving more than one household are banned under pandemic restrictions, he said.

An official who answered the phone at the religious affairs bureau in Panyu, in the southern city of Guangzhou, confirmed to RFA that gatherings are currently restricted to family members only.

The raid in Guiyang comes just a few days after authorities in the southwestern province of Sichuan raided the Fountain of Life Church during a Sunday service in the provincial capital, Chengdu.

Police raided the church on March 7, taking pastor Zha Changping, his wife, and three other church members to the local police station for questioning, the U.S.-based Christian rights group ChinaAid reported on its website.

All five were released after several hours of interrogation, the group said.

Fountain of Life Church is one of the earliest founded urban house churches, and is a sister church of the now-shuttered Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu.

Among its members is a former state security police officer who converted to Christianity, and was later forced to resign from his state job, ChinaAid said.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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