Police in Chengdu, the capital of China's Sichuan province, have raided a Sunday gathering of the Early Rain Covenant Church and detained a leader, in what its members termed the latest act of violence against them by the authorities.
Some 30 officers of the state security police broke up the 50-member meeting on Aug. 14, accusing them of holding an “illegal gathering” of a “banned organization,” Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.
The Christian gathering was inside a tea-house in Chengdu’s Wuhou district.
Police also arrested and detained Christian writer and translator Xing Hongwei for allegedly "assaulting a police officer," church members said.
A church member known by his surname, Wang, said that police surrounded the group at the tea-house and recorded their personal details including ID numbers.
"About 50 brothers and sisters attended," Wang said. "About 22 or 23 uniformed police officers and about eight or nine plainclothes police surrounded us."
"Local police were determined to continue a 'zero tolerance' approach to gatherings"
"They surrounded us in two circles; one circle around our group, and another around the entire [tea-house] courtyard," he said.
Another church member, said on condition of anonymity, that the Wuhou district state security police chief led the raid.
He said local police were determined to continue a "zero tolerance" approach to gatherings of the banned church.
The Early Rain Covenant Church has come under intense pressure since 2018, shortly after the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) adopted a repressive set of new regulations on religious affairs.
In December 2018, police raided and forcibly shut down the church. Its members have been targeted and arrested in the past few years.
Church members said Xing was taken to a different police station from the local one and his whereabouts remain unknown.
"This raid on the Early Rain Sunday meeting was yet another serious form of persecution"
Bob Fu, president of the US-based Christian rights group ChinaAid, said the police have been targeting the Early Rain Church since its founding leader, Pastor Wang Yi, asked President Xi Jinping to stop persecuting religious groups.
"Chengdu Early Rain Covenant Church was founded by Pastor Wang Yi, who in a sermon called on Xi Jinping to stop violating the Chinese Constitution with the crackdown on religious freedom," Fu said.
"This raid on the Early Rain Sunday meeting was yet another serious form of persecution," he said.
Shortly after his speech, police launched a crackdown against the Early Rain Church. On Dec. 9 and 10, 2018, police arrested about 100 members, before the church was forcibly shut down.
Pastor Yi was arrested on Dec. 14, 2018. A court in Chengdu jailed him on Dec. 30, 2019, after he was convicted of "incitement to subvert state power" and of "running an illegal business."
Rights groups reported that some church members were beaten and denied food and water in custody before they were released following an international outcry.
"Security forces have also continued a crackdown on various house churches"
Christians as a whole in China have come under renewed pressure since 2018 when the government implemented repressive religious policies and regulations.
The authorities have pushed both Protestants and Catholics to register with state-sanctioned bodies — Three-Self Church and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA).
Security forces have also continued a crackdown on various house churches that operate secretly to avoid harassment by the Communist regime.
China has an estimated 68 million Protestants and 28 million who worship in state-controlled churches, RFA reported.About nine million Catholics are split into the state-run CCPA and the underground Church, which pledges allegiance to the Vatican.