33 Chinese Church Leaders Released, 1 Detained in Worst Persecution Area

Thirty-three of the 34 house church leaders and three Christian leaders from South Korea were released on Wednesday after being arrested by local police at a Bible study gathering in the infamous Christian persecution region of Henan.

The church leaders suffered through a nearly one-day interrogation period at the police station in Nanyang City, Henan Province in central China, according to China Aid Association (CAA).

Following the intense questioning session, the police released everyone they arrested except for Pastor Dong Quanyu, vice president of Chinese House Church Alliance and whose home was used for the gathering.

Dong was sentenced to 10 days administrative detention for "illegal gathering."

Tuesday's house church raid is the latest incident in the province said to have the worst persecution record in all of China. According to CAA, there were at least 823 known arrests of pastors and believers and 11 raids in Henan province from July 2005 to May 2006.

Some have speculated that the crackdown on Henan house churches is due to the strong Protestant house church movement in the province.

"Henan province should be put on notice having the worst religious persecution record," said the Rev. Bob Fu, president of CAA, last June. "It is morally imperative for any conscientious foreign investors in Henan to address this serious issue."

The arrests came as a bit of a surprise given that CAA recently released a report that said the Chinese government has changed its tactics and is interrogating church members during raids rather than arresting them to avoid bad publicity.

Incidents of raids on house churches have significantly decreased in 2006 compared to previous years.

"Given the population and geographic size of China as well as the desire of Public Security Officials to keep such arrests hidden from the outside world, it would be impossible to measure the exact number that have occurred," said Fu in a statement for the release of CAA's first Annual Report on Persecution of Chinese House Churches by Province in January.

China was designated a "country of particular concern" for severe violations of religious freedom last November by the Secretary of State for the eighth straight year.