Dozens of Christians were worshiping inside a house church in China when more than 20 police officers barged inside during a raid last week.
The police rounded up 31 members of the Zhongfu Wanmin Church, including an American family with children, the persecution watchdog China Aid reported.
When some of the congregants tried to take pictures of the raid with their cell phones, the police immediately stopped them and confiscated not only their phones but their ID cards and bank cards as well.
Li Peng, the church pastor, also tried to take pictures of the raid, but was immediately stopped and beaten by the police.
The pastor and 30 members of his church were then hauled off and taken to the police station in China's southern Guangdong province.
The detainees were interrogated overnight and then released the next morning, except one man—Pastor Li.
When Huang Xiaorui, Li's wife, asked where they were keeping her husband, the police refused to answer her question or let her see her husband.
China Aid later learned that the police raided the house church because of the presence of the American couple and their two children. The authorities accused the church of "accommodating foreigners" and being an "illegal gathering" because the church was not registered with the authorities.
Huang said they told the police that the Americans who joined them are registered as Hong Kong residents and "merely wanted to have a look" at their church.
This was not the first time that Zhongfu Wanmin Church was raided by authorities. The church was raided by the police seven times in May and June last year, according to church sources. During one incident, the officers broke open the church's donation box and confiscated bills amounting to 2,888 yuan ($439), they said.
In an earlier CP report, about 100 Chinese special police and other security officers raided a building in China's northeastern Liaoning province where about 40 house church pastors were gathered for a "Unity in Christianity" event last month.
The authorities accused the pastors of "participating in illegal gatherings without government permission," according to China Aid.
Three of the pastors were arrested and taken away while the rest were locked up in a room and interrogated for several hours.
The authorities accused the host of the event—Pastor Guo Pingxi from Kunming, Yunnan—of belonging to a foreign anti-China group.
China only allows the operation of churches legally registered with their local governments through the Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement or the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
Underground or unregistered house churches are illegal in China and are often subjected to raids and other forms of intimidation by the authorities. Some local governments in China have shut down these unregistered churches.
The country is ranked 39th on Open Door USA's World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution.