Authorities in the northwest Muslim region of Xinjiang have arrested more than 100 leaders of underground "house churches."
More than 200 military police, public security bureau (PSB) officials, and other security forces surrounded a community center in Liugong town July 12 in a massive raid on a meeting of underground Christian church leaders, the U.S.-based rights group, the China Aid Organization (CAA) said in a statement.
"It is likely they will be sent to the Chinese government's 'Transformation and Study Center' where they will be interrogated and pressured to renounce their faith. If they don't, they will be formally charged and tried," the statement said.
The statement added that security officers arrived in 46 police and military vehicles, security officers detained more than 100 people at the Retreat Center for Railroad Workers in the Changjizhou district of Xinjiang, without showing arrest warrants or any form of official identification.
While many leaders had already been released, about 30 people are still being held by police officers in their own localities.
An official who answered the phone at the Liugong police denied the raid had taken place. "You'll have to come here and talk face-to-face," he told RFA's Mandarin service.
The meeting was organized by the unofficial Ying Shang Church network, based in the eastern province of Anhui, the CAA said. It had aimed at training Christian workers in the mostly-Muslim Uyghur region of Xinjiang.
In China it is illegal to cross a provincial border to hold religious meetings without approval from the Religious Affairs Bureau and the state-sponsored Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) church.
"Police have already contacted the local home villages of those from outside Xinjiang, seeking additional information about their religious activities," the CAA said.
Among those confirmed to have been arrested was Wang Yulian, a leader in the Ying Shang Church for more than 20 years.
But two officially recognized Christian leaders were also at the meeting — ; Jin Da, the 34-year-old General Secretary of the TSPM in the eastern coastal city of Ningbo. Jin has 46 TSPM churches under his leadership, but reportedly is supportive of unregistered house churches as well.
Also last week in China, 40 house church leaders were arrested while attending a training seminar run by a Taiwanese couple in the southwestern city of Chengdu City.
All 40 have now been released, local religious bureau officials told RFA's Mandarin service.
"They were holding religious activities in a non-religious public space. This is against our national rules," an official from the Chengdu municipal religious affairs bureau told RFA reporter Yan Ming. "They have all been released now."
"[This should take place in] a properly registered venue for religious activity," he said.
He said the Taiwanese couple had already left. Asked if they had been deported, the official said: "They left of their own accord."