By BosNewsLife News Center
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife) -- China detained at least over 600 Christians last year amid an ongoing crackdown on unregistered 'house churches', a report released Tuesday, January 30, showed.
However the US-based religious rights group China Aid Association (CAA), which released the report, said there were fewer detentions than in 2005 when over 2000 Christians were apparently arrested.
CAA said officials of China's main police agency, the Public Security Bureau, use a "new tactic of interrogating church members during a raid [on a house church] rather than officially arresting [and detaining] them."
The group claimed that "most of the reported detentions in 2006 involved church leaders." Among them Zhang Rongliang, a leader of the 'China for Christ' house church movement in Henan province. He was sentenced to prison for seven years and six months for "illegally crossing the national border" and fraudulently obtaining a passport in June 2006. CAA has linked the charges however to his Christian activities.
Other arrested leaders include house church Pastors Liu Yuhua and Wang Zaiqing, detained on charges of "illegal business practices" related to the "unauthorized" printing and distributing of Bibles and other Christian literature. CAA suggested the two Christians have been anticipating long jail sentences as in 2005 Pastor Cai Zhuohua received a three-year prison term on similar charges.
The group also cautioned that local officials "closed and demolished more house churches in2006" than in 2005. Three house churches were destroyed in Zhejiang province alone last year, including a mega church, the group stressed.
The Chinese government also continued to maintain "strict control" over the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the 'official' Protestant church in China. "For example the local Religion Administrate Bureau evicted Pastor Hu Qinghua, a pastor of a TSPM church in the Pinglu area of Shanxi province in June 2006," CAA said in its report.
In addition, Chinese authorities have continued "to restrict relationships of unregistered Chinese Protestants with fellow believers abroad in contravention of international human rights standards," CAA complained.
Meetings between Chinese house church leaders and foreign Protestants visiting China to conduct theological or organizational trainings were reportedly raided by police in the capital Beijing, provinces Henan and Yunnan and the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
CAA's report claimed that the "worst persecution" of house churches occurred in Zhejiang and Henan provinces as "the Protestant house church movement is particularly strong" there. Last year at least 246 pastors and believers were arrested in nine raids there and three churches were destroyed.
"Ten [Christians] were sentenced to imprisonment, and many of the arrested were abused while detained," CAA claimed. In one raid on March 13, 2006 in Wen County, "two arrested Christian ladies, ages 72 and 21 respectively, were forced to stripe off their cloths during the interrogation," CAA said. Disabled Pastor Li Gongshe was allegedly "severely beaten breaking one of his ribs."
CAA President Bob Fu, a former house church pastor who fled to the United States, said in astatement that the report was only a snapshot of the situation in China and that he could not rule out many more Christians have been detained.
"Given the population and the geographical size of China as well as the desire of Public Security Bureau officials to keep such arrests hidden from the outside world it would be impossible to measure the exact number [of incidents]."
Fu was to testify before the US Commission on International Religious Freedom in Washington DC later on Tuesday, January 30. "Zhejiang and Henan province should be put on notice having the worst religious persecution record. It is morally imperative for any conscientious foreign investors in [these provinces] to address this serious issue," he said.
China's government has strongly denied religious rights abuses. It says Christians are free to worship within the government-backed denominations and that police is only cracking down on "sects" deemed dangerous to society and those violating Chinese law.
Chinese authorities recently confirmed the country has an estimated 130-million Christians, more than previously estimated. China's total population is over 1.3 billion. Church observers have suggested that the Communist government sees the spread of Christianity as a potential threat to its powerbase and atheistic ideology. (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from China. www.bosnewslife.com)
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