Chinese Christian elder arrested in front of 6 year-old daughter on false 'fraud' charges

Catholic worshipers attend a morning mass on Easter Sunday at a Catholic church in a village near Beijing on April 4, 2021.
Catholic worshipers attend a morning mass on Easter Sunday at a Catholic church in a village near Beijing on April 4, 2021. | JADE GAO/AFP via Getty Images

A Christian rights group is calling for the release of a church elder who was forcibly detained by police officers in front of his 6-year-old daughter at his home in Anhui province, central China, on what it says are trumped-up charges of "fraud."

In a pre-dawn raid in November, Ding Zhongfu, an elder in Ganquan church, was forcibly detained by five police officers who conducted an interrogation and searched the apartment Ding shared with his wife, Ge Yunxia, and their young daughter, according to The Associated Press.

The family of Ding, now in custody on fraud allegations, has publicly refuted these claims, suggesting his arrest is indicative of a broader suppression of religious freedom in China. They disclosed to AP that four other senior members of the Ganquan church, meaning "Sweet Spring," were similarly apprehended, as reported by a Christian prayer group.

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On Dec. 1, police called Ding's wife into the station, saying that her husband was being criminally detained on suspicion of fraud, yet declined to give her a copy of any paperwork they had her sign that acknowledged they were investigating him.

Bob Fu, leader of ChinaAid, a U.S.-based Christian rights organization calling for Ding's release, highlighted the increasing use of fraud charges against leaders of house churches, Christian congregations operating independently of state-sanctioned churches in China. Fu emphasized that these charges are often a guise for religious persecution.

"Under the fabricated charge of 'fraud,' many Christians faced harsh persecution," Fu told the AP.

The Ganquan church, which has about 400-500 worshipers, has faced multiple relocations over the past decade due to government pressure. The congregation had pooled funds to purchase a worship property, but police have consistently barred its use for religious gatherings.

In China, religions deemed as "foreign," including Christianity, Islam and Tibetan Buddhism, face high levels of persecution. 

The Chinese government permits Christian worship but restricts it to officially registered churches. Many believers, however, opt for house churches to avoid state interference in their religious practices. But recent years have seen heightened efforts by Beijing to clamp down on house churches. 

In 2018, President Xi Jinping introduced a five-year policy geared toward the "Sinicization of Christianity," forcing sanctioned churches into allegiance with the Communist Party, its leaders and its principles. This policy led to the closure of numerous house churches through various means, including evictions and arrests.

In its annual persecution report for 2022, China Aid warned of an increase in "fraud" charges against house church pastors and leaders in mainland China that allege the practice of tithing and offerings in churches is illegal.

In addition to Ding, several house church pastors and elders in China have been jailed under these charges in recent months.

These include Pastor Hao Zhiwei from Ezhou House Church in Hubei province, who was sentenced to eight years in prison, and elder Hao Ming and Elder Wu Jiannan of Qingcaodi Church in Sichuan province. They face potential sentencing of up to 10 years in prison as their case rests in Jinyang District Court.

"We are gravely concerned about how the Communist regime also treats the State-sanctioned church," Fu said in a statement at the time. "Previously, they asked for sole allegiance to the Communist Party, but since the 20th National Party Congress, they shifted their emphasis to aligning with Xi Jinping."

"Their goal," he added, "is not only to curate a 'socialist-friendly' church; they hope to erase it. The international community needs to know about these trends and developments as China continues to rise on the global stage."

China is ranked No. 16 on Open Doors' 2023 World Watch List of the countries where it's most difficult to be a Christian.

"New restrictions on internet and social media — together with the 2018 regulations on religion, which continue to be revised — are putting severe limitations on Christian freedom," Open Doors warns in a fact sheet. "Many churches are being monitored and closed, no matter whether they are independent or belong to the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. It remains illegal for under-18s to attend church. The old idea that churches will only be perceived as being a threat if they become too large, too political or invite foreign guests is now an unreliable guideline."

Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at:

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