- More than 100 members of a Protestant underground church were rounded up in coordinated overnight raids in southwest China on Sunday night.
- Many members of the congregation still don’t know where their fellow worshippers are.
- Chinese authorities also banned people and news organisations from discussing or reporting on the raids.
- Beijing is hugely cracking down on religious groups that refuse to be controlled by the state.
Chinese authorities rounded up more than 100 members of a Protestant underground church in the country’s southwest, and forbade people from discussing it on social media, followers said.
Members of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, a city in Sichuan province, were taken away from their homes on Sunday evening. Many of their whereabouts are not known.
“Between last night and noon today, more than 100 pastors, elders, employees, brothers, and sisters were taken away,” the Early Rain Covenant Church said in a handwritten letter posted on Facebook on Monday. “Where they are now is not known.”
The country has also banned people around the country from discussing the crackdown on social media and private messaging apps.
State broadcasting authorities issued a memo to news sites forbidding them to report on the raids, saying that “no reporting is allowed without exception,” according to a leaked statement published by the China Digital Times.
Members’ personal social media accounts and personal groups were blocked on Sunday night, and the church’s telephone line was shut down, the South China Morning Post reported.
The group’s Facebook account, however, was still available on Tuesday. Facebook is technically blocked in China, but many people a VPN to bypass the country’s “Great Firewall.”
The coordinated raids appear to be an effort to shut down the church as part of China’s tightening grip on religious groups.
Beijing allows five religious organisations to exist under the state’s control: a Communist Party-sanctioned form of Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism. The Party cracks down on all other, unofficial religious groups, such as the Early Rain Covenant Church.
Chinese authorities have forced Christians to renounce their faith, ordered churches to install facial-recognition cameras, and add state propaganda to sermons in the past.
Two members of the church were released on Monday morning, the South China Morning Post reported.
One of them, assistant deacon Zhang Guoqing is now being watched by “security personnel” at his home, and pastor Wang Yi’s home was ransacked, the newspaper added.
Police also asked some of the members to sign a letter promising not to attend any more church gatherings, the Post reported. Many elders are also reportedly in hiding.
The Early Rain Covenant Church has been targeted before. Dozens of uniformed and plainclothes police officers stormed the church the June prior to a planned worship to mourn the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, the Post reported.
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