Police have detained dozens of churchgoers, leaders, congregation members and activists of one of China’s most prominent Protestant “house” churches, in the latest government action against unregistered religious groups.
Teams of police and state security officials in the south-western city of Chengdu came to the homes of leaders and members of the Early Rain Covenant Church late on Sunday, December 9th and detained them, according to church announcements sent to members and passed to Reuters by churchgoers and activists.
More than 100 people are believed to have been detained, said a church elder, who declined to be identified. China’s Constitution guarantees religious freedom, but since President Xi Jinping took office six years ago, the government has tightened restrictions on religions seen as a challenge to the authority of the ruling Communist Party.
Chinese law requires that all places of worship register and submit to government oversight, but some churches have declined to register, for various reasons. The Early Rain Church is one of the best known unregistered “house” churches in China and according to members of the church have been unable to contact Pastor Wang Yi, the church’s founder, or his wife.
Churches across China have more pressure to register since a new set of regulations to govern religious affairs came into effect in February and increased punishments for unofficial churches.