The communist government of China has arrested four South Korean Christian missionaries and expelled at least 32 more after carrying out a series of police raids on churches, according to reports.
The missionaries, some of who had traveled in past months and were based in the northeast Yanji region, had been helping fugitives fleeing North Korea apart from preaching in the area, according to UCAN, which said Chinese authorities are cracking down on Christian evangelism.
The South Korean government confirmed the arrest of the missionaries, Breitbart reported.
Last September, the government arrested the Vatican-appointed coadjutor bishop of Wenzhou, Msgr. Peter Shao Zhumin, because he hadn't been approved by Chinese officials.
Shao was making preparations to honor the funeral of Msgr. Vincent Zhu Weifang, the original Bishop of Wenzhou who died a few days earlier, according to AsiaNews. Authorities wanted to prevent him from participating in the funeral and taking possession of the diocese.
Bob Fu, founder and president of China Aid, an organization that documents persecution of Christians in China, earlier told The Christian Post that "the top leadership is increasingly worried about the rapid growth of Christian faith and their public presence, and their social influence. It is a political fear for the Communist Party, as the number of Christians in the country far outnumber the members of the Party."
In its 2016 report, Human Rights Watch noted that China is facing several problems, documenting the arrests of various human rights defenders, including those who have stood up for freedom of religion.
It said government authorities led a campaign in 2015 demolishing church crosses and even entire churches. "In 2015, authorities continued their campaign to remove crosses from churches, and in some cases demolished entire churches in Zhejiang Province, considered the heartland of Chinese Christianity," the report stated. "At least a hundred Christians have reportedly been briefly detained for resisting the demolitions since the start of the campaign in early 2014."
When China's communists came to power in 1949, they expelled Christian missionaries while allowing churches to function under the government's control. Chinese Christians faced severe persecution during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and the 1970s under Mao, who saw religion as "poison."
Churches are now allowed to exist, or tolerated, but under tight control of the government.