reports" from China "that a nationwide campaign against unregistered house churches is underway" and that "hundreds" of Christians have been detained. The US-based China Aid Association (CAA) said "numerous house churches" were raided in recent weeks, and that "hundreds were arrested and many are still in prison." The term 'house churches' refers to millions of Christians who rights groups say are forced to hold underground meetings because they refuse to worship in the Communist government-led churches.
In one of the latest incidents on Friday, June 24, Chen Dongming was among 100 pastors allegedly detained when he was leading a church leadership training meeting at his home in Hezhai Village in Henan Province. "More than 50 Chinese police and public security officials raided and searched his house without a search warrant," CAA claimed.
"About 100 pastors from several major cities including from Kaifeng, Xinxiang and Jiaozuo City were taken away and detained at the Qi County Detention Center," CAA officials said. "Most of the pastors were released...the same day after intensive interrogations [but] nine of them, including Pastor Chen Dongming, Pastor Wei and Pastor Jin whose first names are not available, are still jailed."
CAA quoted eyewitnesses as saying that during the reported raid "more than 50 plain clothed security officers from local Public Security offices surrounded the entire village with three large trucks and many police cars and proceeded immediately" to Pastor Chen's house.
"After bursting into the building the security officers conducted thorough body searches of each of the pastors - both men and women. Private property including cash, chairs, TVs, books, blankets and rice were confiscated and carried away by the police trucks," CAA said, citing alleged witnesses.
"One pastor who was released said they were accused of "engaging in an illegal religious gathering," the organization added. CAA investigators inside China say that earlier this month Chinese boarder control guards detained 34 house church Christians at a customs office called Kashi between China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Pakistan.
"All of the 34 Christians were holding legitimate passports and visas from Pakistan. They were arrested June 3, after one of them revealed they are Christian missionaries. Most of them were released after serving 15-days in administrative detention centers in their respective hometowns, including in Henan, Hebei, Shandong" and other areas, CAA claimed.
"All of the 34 are now on the run for fear of further repercussion from the Chinese authorities." CAA said it also learned that several hundred house church Christians were detained at Xingjiang Construction Military Corps which consists of a number of large paramilitary units.
It was reportedly sent by the Chinese Communist Party in the 1950's to suppress the so-called "rebellious Muslims" who resisted the Communist occupation there. "After the successful suppression, these units along with their families were ordered to reside there for civilian work. Many have become Christians and secretly hold house church worship services at their homes," CAA added.
An official of one group of house churches said that since 2002 the local authority is "increasingly suppressing" them with punitive measures such as welfare deduction, arbitrary fines and imprisonment if they are found "believing a religion," CAA said.
Last month, three female house church believers were reportedly arrested "without warrants" by four Public Security Bureau officers at Yiyang County in Henan Province while visiting a Christian leader's home.
Liu Lianying, 52, Xue Haimiao, 30, and Zhang Xiulan, 21, were all released following their May 24 arrest, "after 10, 28 and 31 hours of intensive interrogation respectively" at Yiyang County Detention center on charges of "attending a religious black hole", a reference to house churches there, CAA claimed.
"The three women were brutally beaten and Liu Lianying was released earlier [only] because the beatings caused her to suffer a heart attack," CAA quoted an eyewitness as saying. A similar incident also happened on May 13 when 20 house church leaders were arrested while conducting a bible training class at Pinglu County in Shanxi Province, human rights investigators said.
Among them are two well-known local house church leaders identified as Pastor Zhang Guangmin and Elder Li. After releasing most of the participants the same day, Pastor Zhang and Elder Li were set free after serving a detention term of two weeks and one month respectively at Pinglu County Detention center, CAA said.
The organization also confirmed that a trial of well-known Beijing House church Pastor Cai Zhuohua was postponed "indefinitely" after it was originally scheduled for mid-June.
Cai's mother, who was informed of the court's decision by telephone, has reportedly taken care of his 6-year-old son since the arrest of the pastor, his wife and two other relatives last September.
CAA cited a copy of the prosecution papers as saying that Pastor Cai, his wife Xiao Yunfei and Xiao's brother will be prosecuted on charges of "illegal business management" and for allegedly printing over 200,000 copies of Christian literature.
It said five prominent lawyers "volunteered" to defend Pastor Cai, as they view it as a case of "religious persecution" at a time when China prepares to organize the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
"This is actually just the tip of the iceberg," explained CAA President and former jailed house church leader, Bob Fu in a statement to BosNewsLife.
"China has been proclaiming to the international community that Chinese people are enjoying a golden time of religious freedom... [However] this series of nationwide assaults on unregistered house churches does not support this claim." He described the fresh reports of persecution as "a wakeup call to the world community that it is time to seriously reconsider its appeasing policies toward the issue of China's religious freedom."
There was no immediate reaction from the Chinese government on the alleged crackdown. However China has denied human rights abuses, saying it only is fighting against "sects" it considers dangerous to society.
CAA asked supporters to show concern and write or call Chinese Embassies and Consulates in the United States. The Chinese Embassy in the US is located at 2300 Connecticut Ave NW Washington DC 20008. (With BosNewsLife Research, and reports from China).