Watchdog Sees Rise in Reported Persecution Cases in China

There was an increase in the number of reported persecution cases against Christians in China last year, according to a religious freedom group that specializes in Chinese house churches.

In its "Annual 2009 Persecution Report," ChinaAid Association revealed a 19 percent increase in number of Christian persecution cases compared to data from 2008. The Texas-based group emphasized, however, that the report is based on only a small portion of the total number of persecution cases that took place in mainland China last year because many incidents go unreported.

The report defines persecution as acts involving, but not limited to, threats, inordinate fines, property confiscation, interrogation, arrest and other abuses.

In 2009, ChinaAid recorded 77 total cases of persecution against house churches that affected nearly 3,000 people – 45 percent more than in 2008.

The total number of people arrested, meanwhile, was 389, and the number of those sentenced to jail 23. A total of 114 people were reportedly abused in 2009 – up by 90 percent from 2008.

ChinaAid noted persecution in 2009 particularly increased in large cities and among megachurches. Among the 77 reported cases of persecution in mainland China, 56 of them occurred in urban areas.

In its report, the ministry acknowledged that the reason for the high number of persecution reports from urban areas could perhaps be that people have greater access to communication tools to report their persecution than those living in rural areas.

"[But] it may well reflect a policy of the central government according to which maintaining stability in urban areas is key to the whole country's stability," the report noted.

To get a better understanding of how Christians in China are persecuted today, ChinaAid recorded the number of cases for five common forms of persecution – crackdowns on house church leaders and the house church movement in urban areas, prevention of worship gathering, punishment of Christians with long-term imprisonment and heavy fines, and the tightening of control over Three-Self Patriotic Movement churches.

Cases recorded include ones like that of a church in the southeastern city of Fushan that was prevented by local Chinese officials last fall from gathering in the demolished buildings of a megachurch with reportedly 80,000 members. Hundreds of people in police suits had used bulldozers to destroy the brick buildings and physically attacked church members who were sleeping at the construction site of a new church building. Over 100 people were reportedly injured to various degrees.

Also noted by ChinaAid Association was the unexpected move by the government to tighten control over churches that registered under the government-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement.

In China, citizens are only allowed to worship in religious institutions approved by the bodies established by China's Religious Affairs Bureau to exercise state supervision over them. For Protestant Christians, this means worshiping in churches affiliated with the TSPM and China Christian Council.

On Feb. 15, 2009, officials raided the Zhutun Church, a TSPM church in Henan province. Then, in April, one of the church leaders was arrested and sentenced to a year in labor camp because she revealed that officials took church donation meant for Sichuan earthquake relief efforts.

Other churches that belong to the official Protestant umbrella group also had to deal with persecution including the expulsion of its leaders.

"Because when Three-Self churches are persecuted they normally choose not to leak the news out and ask for outside help, many similar persecution cases are not known," the CAA report noted. "So from the above … cases, the Chinese government also seems to be watching carefully, and in some cases repressing hard those leaderships who insist on being faithful Christians as well as faithful citizens in the Three-Self churches."

Meanwhile, tens of millions – and up to 100 million by some estimates – of Chinese Christians continue to refuse to worship in registered churches. "Underground" or "house church" Christians worship secretly in homes at the risk of being arrested, fined, or imprisoned by Public Security Bureau (PSB) officials.

They argue that the government should not be the head of the church, and restricting where they can worship is infringing on their religious freedom.

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