China Aid has reported in its 2015 Annual Report of Religious and Human Rights Persecution in China that as many as 20,000 people suffered religious persecution by the Communist Party throughout the year. Despite imcreasing persecution, however, the number of Christians in the country continues to grow.
"In 2015, China Aid documented 634 cases of persecution in which 19,426 religious practitioners were persecuted, representing an 8.62 percent increase from 2014's 17,884 religious practitioners persecuted," the report stated.
"A number of factors led to the increases, including a widespread, barbaric round up of China's human rights legal professionals, activists and family members in July 2015," it added.
Christians have particularly been targeted in the ongoing church and rooftop-cross demolition campaign, which has taken down hundreds of crosses and places of worship in the past couple of years. Hundreds of Christians, including pastors and lawyers, have been arrested for speaking out against the ongoing persecution, though the Chinese government has claimed it is only tackling "building code" violations.
The demolition campaign has continued throughout 2016, and has led to several casualties such as the killing of a church leader's wife in central Henan province who was buried alive for standing up to the government-ordered demolition of a church.
China Aid warned that it is not only Christians who are being persecuted, noting that followers of Tibetan Buddhism and Islam "likely experienced even more intense government persecution" at the hands of the atheistic Communist Party.
Despite the hardships that Christians faced throughout the year, the report states that Christianity continues to grow.
"Christians fasted, prayed and organized protests, and the steadfast response of these churches spread to other places, producing widespread public opposition to the government's brutal cross demolitions," it explained.
"These included large-scale fasting and praying by Christians everywhere, believers tying themselves to crosses, street protests of Christians holding small wooden crosses, church members re-erecting downed crosses, and even Christians physically fighting the government's cross demolition efforts."
The persecution watchdog group noted that there was an increase in human rights lawyers taking to court Christian cases in the form of civil law, administrative law, property rights law, achieving victories which "strengthened the faith of many church members." A number of these lawyers would later be arrested by the government for their actions, however.
"China Aid has been closely monitoring the development of religious freedom in China since 2002," the report noted.
"Despite the worsening situation of religious freedom in China in the last decade, China Aid sees great hope in the fast growth of the house church movement across China and firmly believes that God's love and justice will eventually cover the vast expanse of this nation."