By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent
BEIJING, CHINA (Worthy News)-- Chinese authorities have detained at least 10 "house" church leaders who were involved in a world evangelism congress, a well-informed religious rights group said Wednesday, April 27.
The pastors from Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, "were criminally detained" by security forces "on suspicion of fraud" because they were invited for last October's 'Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization' in Cape Town, South Africa, said China Aid Association (CAA).
"Criminal detention" is viewed as the first step towards a trial, conviction and jail sentence.
CAA said the Hohhot Public Security Bureau's Domestic Security Department and the Criminal Police Brigade took part in the April 16 raids. Among the first to be taken into custody was Pastor Liu Jingtao, a key Lausanne organizer, according to rights investigators.
"Because of the large number of people who have been detained, the names of the others are still being confirmed," CAA said. The meeting sites of the pastors' churches were reportedly closed down and sealed by police.
House church leaders in another Inner Mongolian city, Ordos, have also been "criminally detained" over their involvement in the Lausanne congress but details remain sketchy, the group added.
CAA claimed Chinese authorities detained the Christians as they "felt snubbed by the Lausanne organizers" who invited house church representatives as "official delegates". Officials of state-run Protestant churches of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement reportedly had only an "observer" status, barring them from signing the Lausanne Covenant on worldwide evangelism.
CAA said the "observer status" was due to the Three-Self's own regulations prohibiting "proselitizing" outside its churches, which meant they "could not sign the Lausanne covenant that requires delegates to engage in worldwide evangelism."
Yet, "Angered that its official church was not the sole representative of Christianity in mainland China, Beijing spared no effort in stopping the 200 invited Chinese house church pastors and leaders from going to Cape Town," CAA said.
Additionally, "In April this year, local governments across China started to "settle the score" with the pastors who had actively participated in Lausanne last year."
Hohhot police reportedly denied wrongdoing, saying the "suspicion of fraud" charge stemmed from "persons not recognized by the government as clergy engaged in fund-raising activities."
Christians said police referred to those Chinese pastors who did not apply for a travel stipend from congress organizers, but instead raised money for poorer churches in other developing countries so they could also participate in last year's mega-event.
The evangelism congress is named after the Swiss city of Lausanne where it was first held in 1974 with evangelical leaders from around the world, backed by famous evangelist Billy Graham.
Chinese Communist officials have reportedly privately acknowledged there may be as many as 130 million Christians in China, many of whom prefer to worship in underground "house" churches, outside state control.