The communist government of China is harassing and keeping an eye on Li Yingqiang, an elder of the persecuted Early Rain Covenant Church in Sichuan province, since he returned with his family last month to “experience the hardship and grace together with his fellow brothers and sisters.”
Li, a leader of ERCC, one of China’s largest unregistered churches, had to leave Sichuan last August due to threats, but he decided to return to a newly rented apartment last month.
Soon after their arrival, the local police came to verify their legal residence and six public security officers visited and repeatedly told him he was not welcome in Chengdu city, according to the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern.
Li was told he and his family would now face heightened surveillance and harassment and they may be deprived of the custody of their children.
Last Monday, the sub-district office set up a station in his community to keep an eye on his family and no one was allowed to visit their residence. When he brought his young children to a nearby park, they were closely followed, ICC reported.
Two days later, Li waved down a taxi for an outing with his family but the taxi driver was sent away by the person surveilling him. Li had to cancel the outing.
The 5,000-member 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. Authorities broke down the doors of church members’ and leaders’ homes, arresting more than 100 people, including Pastor Wang Yi and his wife, Jiang Rong.
They ransacked and sealed the church’s properties, including offices, a kindergarten, a seminary, and a Bible college, and searched the homes of many of its members. Police also forced church members to sign a pledge not to attend the church again, and around half of the church's original membership remain under close surveillance by police.
Last December, Wang was sentenced to nine years in prison on charges of subversion of power and illegal business operations.
The New York Times noted earlier that Wang had become known for taking high-profile positions on politically sensitive issues, including forced abortions and the massacre that crushed the Tiananmen Square democracy movement in 1989.
In April, several members of the church were arrested by the Public Security Bureau for participating in an online Easter worship service on Zoom and ordered to cease all religious activity.
In May, police brought in ERCC members in charge of church activities and online services and demanded that they stop all activities, according to China Aid.
China’s Communist Party requires that Protestants worship only in churches recognized and regulated by the officially sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement.
Open Doors USA’s World Watch List ranks China as one of the worst countries in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians. The organization notes that all churches are perceived as a threat if they become too large, too political or invite foreign guests.