China Megachurch Demolition, Christian Arrests Prompt Calls for Int'l Probe

Dozens of Chinese Christians are still detained or missing after one of the largest clashes in China between police and Christians in recent years.

Over 50 house church leaders and Christians are still in custody after the demolition of a large church in Hangzhou, capital of the coastal Zhejiang province in late July, reported China Aid Association on Wednesday. Among some 50 detained, four are still missing.

On July 29, some 500 police forces tore down a nearly completed church in Xiaoshan district in east China, clashing with 3,000 Christian worshippers, reported The Associated Press. The building was not registered with the Chinese government, although CAA reported that the church had attempted to register but was denied.

In response to the detainment of involved Christians, the Chinese House Church Alliance issued an urgent statement calling for an independent international investigation regarding the destruction of the church and arrests of Christians during the incident.

The Alliance pointed out that because the Chinese government did not release an arrest list and is not providing information to family members, if someone died in prison then the government can avoid responsibility by saying they were not involved.

An appeal was issued by the group to the international community, human rights organizations, and concerned citizens to request that the Chinese government provide an arrest list and details of the detained present situation, release all Christians, provide emergency medical treatment, give the church a proper place to worship, apologize publicly for their persecution of the Christians, and reimburse them for the loss and destruction of the church.

Since 1999, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended China to be designated as a country of particular concern (CPC) – a status given to countries for ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom. According to the Commission’s 2006 report, Chinese government officials continue to control, monitor, and restrain the activities of all religious communities including “house church” Protestants and “underground” Roman Catholics.

China’s government has pressured religious groups to register and, in practice, affiliate with one of the seven government-sanctioned “patriotic religious organizations,” reported USCIRF. Groups that resist pressure to register have been shut down and their leaders detained, fined, and even forced to face criminal prosecution.

Moreover, prominent religious leaders and adherents continue to suffer from confinement, torture, disappearances, imprisonment, and subjection to other forms of ill treatment due to their religious beliefs, reported the Commission.

China is also ranked number ten on Open Doors’ World Watch List for Christian persecution along with countries such as North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam.

China Aid Association noted Christians in China face “great pressure” to build a sanctuary because of the government’s frequent destruction of church buildings. According to CAA, since 2003, over 300 house churches were destroyed in Zhejiang Province alone.

The official state newspaper of China, Xinhua, acknowledged on Tuesday that it did demolish the church building which it said was not registered. The newspaper quoted a local official as saying only two people were arrested and that the government had negotiated with Christians and offered another plot of land nearby.

However, a Christian businesswoman from Xiaoshan district told Reuters on Monday that the local government thought the land was too valuable to be used to be a church.

Four prominent legal scholars and attorneys have agreed to perform a legal investigation team for the church destruction incident. – Dr. Fan Yafeng, Dr. Li Baiguang, Attorney Zhang Xingshui and Chen Yongmiao.

The district of Xiaoshan, where the megachurch was destroyed, is home to many Protestant Christians. According to the Chinese House Church Alliance’s statement, Christian churches in Xiaoshan district, Hangzhou city, Zhejiang province stem from the missionary work of “China Inland Missionary,” an evangelical organization founded by the famous British missionary, Hudson Taylor, who preached the Gospel in Xiaoshan in 1867.