China: Police arrest Christians participating in Zoom Easter worship service

A church is seen beside a laver farm at the Gutong Village of Sansha Township on October 15, 2007 in Xiapu County of Fujian Province, China.
A church is seen beside a laver farm at the Gutong Village of Sansha Township on October 15, 2007 in Xiapu County of Fujian Province, China. | Getty Images/China Photos

Several members of China’s heavily persecuted Early Rain Covenant Church were arrested by communist authorities for participating in an online Easter worship service on Zoom and ordered to cease all religious activity.

Persecution watchdog group International Christian Concern reports that the Christians were participating in a Zoom worship service from their homes on Easter Sunday when six leaders were arrested and detained by the Public Security Bureau. 

The 5,000-member Sichuan house church, led by pastor Wang Yi, has not been able to gather in person since the communist regime shut down the church in 2018 and arrested their pastor and other leaders. Since then, it has opted to gather online.

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A member of ERCC told ICC, “At that time I was also in the Zoom call, but there was a long period of time where I did not hear a thing. I thought it’s the network connection issue at first, but I soon heard a quarrel erupt. Our co-worker Wang Jun was questioning some people, [saying], ‘Who are you to do this [to us]?’”

She added that in addition to Wang, other key church leaders including Guo Haigang, Wu Wuqing, Jia Xuewei, Zhang Jianqing and Zhang Xudong were also taken away. One member’s home had its electricity cut off, while others received phone calls that “police [were] coming to visit them soon.”

A supporter of ERCC also shared on Twitter, “Since 8:30 a.m., some security officials have entered these Christian families’ homes and pretended to be chatting with them casually. At 9:30 a.m., the worship began, and they were also invited to participate. Once they realized that the sermon was from ERCC’s imprisoned pastor Wang Yi, they immediately shut it down.”

Her account was corroborated by Zhang Jiangqing, who was warned by the police at his house, saying, “Don’t participate in already banned [religious] activities anymore! Don’t listen to pastor [Wang]’s sermons anymore! If you do this again, we will deal with it seriously and take you away!”

The six Christians have since been released, and their electricity was restored in the afternoon.

Early Rain Covenant Church was first raided during a Sunday evening service in December 2018 after authorities claimed it violated religious regulations because it was not registered with the government. Wang was detained along with his wife, Jiang Rong, and more than 100 members of his congregation.

Pastor Wang was later sentenced to nine years in prison on charges of subversion of power and illegal business operations. 

Gina Goh, ICC’s regional manager for Southeast Asia, condemned the government’s actions, pointing out that local authorities have continued to monitor and harass ERCC members since 2018 “with the hope that the church will disperse itself.”

“In a time when the Chinese people are suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, the heartless regime chose to inflict more trouble on its citizens,” she said. “The U.N. should immediately suspend China’s appointment to the Human Rights Council for its lack of respect for human rights.”

In China, where the novel coronavirus originated, isolating in place has presented an opportunity for communist authorities to ramp up its campaign against Christianity.

On Ester Sunday, the state-sanctioned Donghu Church in China’s Qinghai province was demolished. According to China Aid, a team from the Xining City Chengxi District Urban and Rural Construction Bureau demolished the church in just two hours, labeling it as illegal while citing “safety concerns.”

On April 2, Bethel Church pastor Zhao Huaiguo was arrested after being criminally detained since March 14 for “inciting subversion of state power.”

According to China Aid, a local Christian shared that the authorities have been hostile toward pastor Zhao since his church refused to join the state-sanctioned church and rejected government officials’ intervention. 

“He was accused of proselytizing and distributing Gospel tracts, which were considered illegal acts. After the Lunar New Year last year, the religious bureau forced the church to disperse, to which it refused. The official ban arrived last April,” said the local Christian.

Religious liberty magazine Bitter Winter reported that in mid-March, crosses were removed from multiple churches in the eastern provinces of Jiangsu and Anhui and in the neighboring Shandong, the prefecture-level city of Linyi.

In February, officials removed a cross from a government-approved Three-Self church in Hexi village. The church was built in 2007 and has complied with state regulations, implementing the four requirements of the government’s religion “sinicization” campaign. Additionally, it had stopped all gatherings during the coronavirus epidemic. Nevertheless, it was not spared in the crackdown. 

“The government does not provide enough help during the epidemic but instead demolishes crosses,” a local believer said.

China is ranked o Open Doors USA’s World Watch List as one of the worst countries in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians. 

China has also been labeled by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” for “continuing to engage in particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”

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