Close to 100 Christian leaders and students were arrested on Sunday at a church in Chengdu, China, with a prayer letter claiming that three believers were tortured.
Persecution watchdog group ChinaAid said that among the arrested at Early Rain Covenant Church were Pastor Wang Yi and his wife, Jiang Rong, as well as Guo Hai and his wife, who were forced to leave their child unnattended at home when they were taken into custody.
Another church elder, Qin Defu, was forced to the ground by security officials as his residence was inspected.
A translation of a prayer letter released by the church claimed that three Christians taken by police, and then freed, were tortured.
"Three brothers and sisters who have been released told us that they were [tortured] by police at the police station today and even stepped on their feet. One of the brothers was tied to his hands and feet at a late night and was detained all day, and the leg was tortured in multiple ways, and the body was injured with multiple injuries. These evils are heinous," the letter read in part.
"A brother said the police didn't give him a sip of rice in 24 hours, didn't drink a sip, was deprived of rest time and was tied to the chair all night for only two or three hours," it added.
The Communist Party officials had police surround the entrance of the church with vehicles before they broke in on Sunday, and began arresting Christians without providing a detailed explanation.
"We are enforcing laws. Our process is to summon litigants and require them to cooperate with the investigation. you all should follow our process ... What else am I supposed to tell you? You are not supposed to know some details, so you can never know. It is us rather than you who enforce laws," one of the officers reportedly explained.
The crackdown on Christians in Chengdu continued into Tuesday, when believers from the church who went into hiding were tracked down and arrested.
Chinese Christian Fellowship of Righteousness released a video on Sunday showing one of the confrontations when a Christian was taken from his home, and his wife questioned by police.
One parishioner told AFP on condition of anonymity on Monday that at least 80 people from the unofficial Protestant church remain missing.
"Most church members were taken from their homes, and some were grabbed off the street," the churchgoer said. "Some were found via their smartphone's location and were taken away."
"The police had the whole neighborhood under control, as well as the surrounding area," he added. "They didn't let anyone get close."
Bob Fu, ChinaAid's founder and president, said that the arrests represent "a major escalation of religious persecution in China."
"Ironically this largest scale of arrests and clamp down on the international Human Rights Day shows Xi’s regime deliberately making itself the enemy of universal values, such as religious freedom for all. ChinaAid calls upon the international community to condemn these arbitrary arrests of innocent religious believers and urges the Chinese regime for their immediate release," Fu added.
The massive crackdown on underground churches, but also some registered Catholic churches, continues in China ever since controversial revised religious regulations took effect in February, issued by President Xi Jinping.
An unprecedented letter signed by nearly 350 Chinese church leaders in September declared that churches will never accept to be controlled by the government or forced to register against their will.
"We also will not accept any 'ban' or 'fine' imposed on our churches due to our faith. For the sake of the Gospel, we are prepared to bear all losses — even the loss of our freedom and our lives," the church leaders wrote at the time.
Speaking of the latest mass arrests, International Christian Concern Regional Manager Gina Goh said: "Chinese authorities seek to intimidate the house church leaders and members by persistently threatening, harassing, and detaining them. They have the mindset that by doing so, Christianity in China will submit to the government’s control."
"What they don’t know is that Christians often grow stronger and more united after they experience persecution. Beijing’s scheme will never prevail, and its distorted view of religious freedom and human rights will continue to be condemned by the international community," Goh added.