The officially atheist Chinese government harassed Christians in different regions of the country in the days leading up to Christmas and on Christmas Eve, reported a U.S.-based rights group.
Nine Christian women were arrested during a nativity play in the eastern province of Henan on Dec. 24, Christmas Eve, according to China Aid Association. The house church Christians were reenacting the nativity scene on the street when a group of Public Security Bureau (PSB) officers raided the house church at about 11 a.m. (local time) in Yucheng county, Henan province.
The women, including the leader of the group, were still held at the Detention Center of Yucheng County as of Dec. 25 when the CAA report was released. PSB officials have reportedly demanded the family members to pay a fine in exchange for the women's released.
China has strict laws that ban all non-government registered religious bodies from holding service or any type of gathering. For Protestant churches, only those registered and operating under the government's umbrella organization, the China Christian Council, are allowed to openly hold services and organize activities.
But many house churches operate outside of the government-sanctioned network, arguing that they cannot allow the government to replace God as the head of the church.
The estimated number of underground Christians is as high as 100 million Christians, according to some experts.
In addition to Henan province, authorities also arrested Christians this week in the northwest Xinjiang Autonomous Region and the eastern Anhui province on Dec. 21 and Dec. 22, respectively.
A house church in Yili city, Xinjiang Autonomous Region, was banned this past Sunday, and its pastor was warned that he could face arrest if he continued his house church service.
On the following day, authorities raided the house church-affiliated Shepherd Fellowship Bible training class in Dianlong village, Yanghu township, Dongzhi county in Anhui province. The raid was a joint campaign that included forces from the Domestic Defense Protection Squad branch of Chizhou Municipal Public Security Bureau of Anhui Province, the Domestic Defense Protection Squad of Dongzhi County Public Security Bureau, the Yanghu Township Police Station and the Dongzhi County Bureau of Religion.
In total, 19 students and two house church leaders were taken to the PSB office for interrogation. The students were reportedly harassed and pressured into saying the church lured them to participate in the Bible study.
All the students were released within three hours of their arrest, but the church leaders were not released until five hours later.
Besides the arrests, PSB officials also seized two account books and two other books from the Bible training center, but failed to give the house church members a receipt for the confiscated items.
A day after the Anhui raid on Dec. 23, the PSB called the church leaders and warned them to send the students home before government officials arrived at the site of the Bible study training. Having no alternative, the church sent the 19 students home.
Later that morning, officials from several government agencies did return to the location of the Bible training sessions and photographed and videotaped all materials at the site.
The County Bureau of Religion taped off the house church building and announced that the government has seized the building because group leader Cheng Donglai had illegally ran a school. Authorities also pronounced the school abolished and declared they would demolish or sell the building used for the Bible training.
At the time of the report, the incident was not resolved. The two church leaders involved in the incident expect officials to summon them at any time for further investigation.