China: House church pastor detained, fined for refusing to join state-controlled church

A woman wears a protective mask as she passes a church on February 8, 2020, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China.
A woman wears a protective mask as she passes a church on February 8, 2020, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. | Getty Images

The leader of a house church in China’s Yunnan province who refused to join the state-sponsored church was detained for five days as his “administrative punishment” and hit with a fine amid an uptick in religious persecution by the regime.  

China Aid reports that Li Chunze, the leader of a house church in Panlong District in the city of Kunming, was detained from Nov. 16 to Nov. 21 after Changqing police raided his house and accused the fellowship he attended for disturbing the order of public places.

A local believer told China Aid, “The staff from the district religious affairs bureau said that it is illegal for believers to participate in religious activities at a venue not approved by the government. Numerous police officers transported all the attendees to the police station for interrogation.”

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All Christians were released except for Li, who remained in administrative detention at Kunming Municipal Detention Center for five days. He was also fined an undisclosed amount.

The house church led by Li was established about 10 years ago, with most of the members being local senior citizens. Local police and officials from the religious affairs bureau have repeatedly pressured them to join the state-sanctioned Three-Self church, to which they refused.

The detention of Li comes as the ruling Communist Party seeks to “sinicize” every religious ideology in the country — meaning, to make beliefs, including Christianity, fall in line with communism. 

Earlier in November, it was reported that a church plant affiliated with the heavily-persecuted Early Rain Covenant Church was raided by authorities in China’s Taiyuan, Shanxi province. Authorities then detained the pastor and six other members.

Gina Goh, International Christian Concern's regional manager for Southeast Asia, previously said that at a time when religion in China has to submit itself to the control of the Chinese Communist Party and President Xi Jinping, it's “no longer a surprise that a house church is seen as an enemy of the state and clamped down upon.”

“China’s blindness to its violation of religious freedom needs to be continuously exposed so that Beijing knows it cannot get away with performing these evil acts,” Goh said. 

Previous reports have revealed how authorities have destroyed or converted churches into CCP propaganda centers. Some church buildings have been converted into entertainment venues and factories, while others were demolished, repurposed, sold or rented out.

In addition to Christians, China persecutes other religious minority groups including Uyghurs, Tibetan Buddhists, Catholics, and Falun Gong. 

This month, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Samuel D. Brownback, announced the U.S. will be working against the use of technology to suppress religious minorities. 

Brownback cited China’s abuses against Uyghur Muslims, noting the CCP has created a “virtual police state” to oppress the religious minority group, including sophisticated cameras, facial-recognition technology, and collecting DNA samples.

“We’re seeing this graphically done in Xinjiang, where high-tech observation systems using artificial intelligence and facial recognition are oppressing a predominantly Muslim majority from practicing its faith, this along with being locked up in detention facilities — over a million Muslim Uyghurs locked up in detention facilities,” Brownback said.

“And we want to stop this from spreading to other countries around the world or spreading more to other countries around the world,” he said.

China is ranked No. 23 out of 50 countries where it's most difficult to be a Christian, according to the World Watch List from persecution watchdog Open Doors USA.

According to a November report from the Pew Research Center, restrictions on religion in China have risen to a record level. Researchers found that China continues to have “the highest score on the Government Restrictions Index out of all 198 countries and territories in the study.” 

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