Police in China raided the Early Rain Covenant Church during a worship service, locked about 60 church members inside the building and arrested one, according to a report.
Over 20 police officers in uniform and plainclothes from the Wuhou district raided the Chengdu-based ERCC while its members were holding worship on Sunday at a tea shop, the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern reported.
The church members were locked inside the building and released only after they provided their identification. One member, identified as Xing Hongwei, refused to comply with authorities' demands.
In response, Chinese law enforcement arrested Xing and charged him with assaulting police, according to the ICC.
Xing, who has been recovering from meningitis for about a year and nearly lost his life, was arrested along with his wife, Zhao Qing, and remained in police custody as of Thursday.
The police said ERCC was ordered to disband and the gathering was illegal.
Open Doors USA, which monitors the persecution of Christians in over 60 countries, estimates that China has more than 97 million Christians, many of whom worship in unregistered or “illegal” underground churches.
The five state-sanctioned religious groups in China are the Buddhist Association of China, the Chinese Taoist Association, the Islamic Association of China, the Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.
“China’s ongoing crackdown against ERCC is the prime example of how Beijing continues to disregard religious freedom for its people even if the Constitution guarantees this right,” said Gina Goh, ICC’s regional manager for Southeast Asia.
“Since the incarceration of ERCC Pastor Wang Yi and elder Qing Derfu in 2018, the government has not ceased its harassment and persecution of the house church. The government’s goal is to see all house churches go extinct so they can fully control Christianity in China.”
Even the organizations affiliated with the five authorized religions can be subject to surveillance and limitations, the human rights group Bitter Winter has noted.
ICC documented more than 100 incidents of Christian persecution in China between July 2020 and June 2021 as the country’s communist regime seeks to forcefully convert independent religious groups into mechanisms of the Chinese Communist Party.
In 2018, the Chinese government banned the sale of Bibles at online bookstores across the country to comply with a “white paper” that dictated compliance with the “core values of socialism.”
ABC News Australia reported at the time that copies of the Gospels had been removed from online retailers following the release of a regime document titled, “China’s Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief.”
The white paper declared that Chinese faith communities “should adhere to the direction of localizing the religion, practice the core values of socialism, develop and expand the fine Chinese tradition and actively explore the religious thought which accords with China’s national circumstances.”