Christmas season sees arrests of Christians in China—is this a new era of religious persecution?
The warmth of Christmas is already in the December air and the new year’s charm is ready to embrace us in no time. But the world’s overall “year-end” picture still showcases enough gloomy scenes, and sadly we can’t rectify them any time sooner.
For instance, when people across the world are enjoying the Christmas festivities and holidays with their loved ones, in China, however, it is an altogether different story. Recently, House Christians in China are again facing mass arrests and round-the-clock surveillance for refusing to give up their faith.
On Dec. 9 and 10, a pastor and over 100 churchgoers from Early Rain Covenant Church, an independent Protestant church in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, were taken into police custody because the church is not registered with the Chinese authorities. Just five days later, on Dec. 15, Langfang City, located near Beijing, had banned all Christmas-related activities.
According to The Epoch Times, the memo by the Chinese authorities said, “Completely clear out sales of Santa Claus, Christmas trees, Christmas-Eve Apples and all other Christmas related merchants.” The memo noted that particularly on Dec. 23, 24, and Christmas Day, “every law enforcement official must do his job” and “strictly control any kind of propaganda and sales activity, clear out and crackdown on street merchants.”
Then on Dec. 18, police interrupted a Bible class at Rongguili Church in Guangzhou. Meanwhile, earlier this year in September, another unregistered church, Zion church, in Beijing, was sealed shut.
Such unregistered churches in China are officially referred to as “underground churches” by the communist regime.
In the recent crackdown, Head pastor Wang Yi of Early Rain Covenant Church, who was previously a human rights activist, was detained and held for “inciting subversion of state power,” according to the official notice that his mother received from the authorities, reported Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The authorities ransacked and sealed the Church’s offices, a bible college, a kindergarten, a seminary, and homes of the church members. The church members were also forced by the police to sign a pledge promising that they would not attend the church again.
The church released a prayer letter on its Facebook page, stating that the three members who were later freed were beaten by the police while in custody. One member added that he was deprived of food and water for 24 hours.
In August this year, Wang Yu, a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer who took on the cases for Christians, had told Reuters that she feared the situation might worsen when Zion church in Beijing was evicted. The authorities had instructed the church in April to install 24 CCTV cameras in the building, a request that the church rejected.
“They wanted to put cameras in the sanctuary where we worship. The church decided this was not appropriate,” Pastor Jin Mingri told Reuters. “Our services are a sacred time.”
The Chinese authorities eventually shut down the 11-year-old “house” church in September. The church had previously said in one of its statements that the Chinese authorities even called the church a cult, a term often used by the CCP to defame religious and spiritual groups.
“Being labeled a cult was how it all started for the Falun Gong in 1999,” Wang told Reuters while referring to the persecution of the Falun Gong meditation system.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is an ancient cultivation discipline in the Buddha school based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance. The peaceful meditation and self-improvement practice was introduced in China in May 1992, and it became increasingly popular in just a few years due to the immense health benefits. According to state-run reports, by the late 1990s, the number of Chinese people practicing Falun Gong reached 100 million.
In July 1999, the CCP launched a brutal crackdown on the group, leading to many Falun Gong practitioners being arrested, detained, and tortured in police custody, with numerous cases of death reported. Independent investigations have revealed that the CCP-funded forced-organ-harvesting activities majorly target the prisoners of faith who are primarily Falun Gong practitioners, House Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and Uighur Muslims.
Some of the most common physical torture methods used on these prisoners of faith include beatings, shocking with electric batons, force-feeding, exposure to extreme heat and cold, confinement in small cages, handcuffing for long periods of time, and injecting dangerous drugs.
Pastor Bob Fu, founder and president of ChinaAid, a Christian human rights organization, said in a statement that the massive overnight attack against the church members “represents a major escalation of religious persecution in China” and that this largest scale of arrests shows President Xi Jinping’s “regime deliberately making itself the enemy of universal values, such as religious freedom for all.”
He said, “ChinaAid calls upon the international community to condemn these arbitrary arrests of innocent religious believers and urges the Chinese regime for their immediate release.”
According to Council on Foreign Relations, some independent estimates suggest there are more than 100 million Christians in China—a figure that exceeds the membership of the Chinese Communist Party, thus leading to increased clampdown on the religion.
Though the Christians are facing an unprecedented crackdown from the officially atheist communist regime, their faith remains unwavering.
“House churches believe that our spiritual needs and the content of our faith is ruled over by God,” Jin told Reuters. “What we need is the freedom to believe. Without this, it is not real faith.”
Forty-eight hours after pastor Wang was arrested, the church members published the pre-written statement, which he had instructed them to release in a scenario like this.
Pastor Wang wrote, “I am filled with anger and disgust at the persecution of the church by this Communist regime, at the wickedness of their depriving people of the freedoms of religion and of conscience.”
“I accept and respect the fact that this Communist regime has been allowed by God to rule temporarily,” he wrote. “Regardless of what crime the government charges me with, whatever filth they fling at me … I categorically deny it.”