Thirty house church leaders were detained in a northern province in China last week, according to a human rights group specializing in Chinese house churches.
The leaders, which included men and women, were members of the Chinese House Church Alliance, one of the detained pastors reported to ChinaAid Association before security forces were presumed to have confiscated his cell phone during the incident on Jan. 8.
Handan City Public Security and Religious Affairs Bureaus reportedly broke into the leaders’ meeting of the Chinese House Church Alliance that was held in Handan City, Hebei province while they were having Bible study.
One of the detained pastor was able to briefly notify an outside contact about the incident before the call was “abruptly cut off,” according to CAA. The Texas-based rights group believes the pastor’s cell phone was confiscated, as he could not be reached afterwards.
Before the informing pastor was cut off, he reported that the security forces threatened some of the pastors with 15 days of administrative detention.
The Christian Post attempted to reach the Chinese Embassy to confirm the report and for comments, but a response could not be immediately obtained.
Pastor Zhang “Bike” Mingxuan, president of the Chinese House Church Alliance, has called upon the Handan government to immediately release the house church leaders.
There are at least 50 million house church Christians in China, with some estimates saying the number is as high as 100 million.
China’s constitution states that citizens have freedom of religion, but in practice, the right to worship is restricted to religious institutions approved by the government. Protestant Christians can only legally worship in churches registered with the government’s Three-Self Patriotic Movement.
Christians who refuse to worship in government-sanctioned churches attend “underground” or “house” churches. The number of Christians who worship in house churches far outnumbers those who attend registered churches.
In spite of continual reports of government crackdown on house churches, there has been progress in China’s respect of religious freedom in recent years. The U.S. State Department removed China from its human rights blacklist in 2008, and Open Doors has dropped China from its top 10 list of the world’s worst Christian persecutors for the past two years.
In the 2010 World Watch List, China is ranked No. 13, down from No. 12 in 2009.