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Police in the southwestern Chinese city of Guiyang raided a Christian bible study session held at a private residence this week, detaining at least ten participants, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported Thursday.
“The Ren’ai Reformed Church was raided by officials including the civil affairs bureau and the police on the morning of March 16,” Huang, a Christian resident of Guiyang – the capital of Guizhou province – told RFA on March 17.
“More than a dozen of our brothers and sisters were taken away [by police],” Huang said.
A Ren’ai leader named Zhang Chulei was also detained after visiting the local police station after the raid to inquire about his fellow church members.
“I heard that they called him in for questioning,” Huang said, adding, “Many of them [the detainees] have yet to be released, including Zhang Chunlei.”
Prior to Tuesday’s raid, Chinese state security forces had allegedly targeted Zhang with “repeated surveillance and harassment” and “barred [him] from participating in any religious activities, and from communicating with other church members,” according to the report.
RFA described the Ren’ai Reformed Church as a “Protestant house church,” which is a Christian worship service held within a private residence in China to avoid state persecution. China’s ruling Communist Party allows just five religions to operate in the country: Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, and “Christianity,” which the CCP refers to as the “Three-Self Church.” In practice, however, the officially atheist CCP creates hostile conditions for religious worshippers in China, and the Communist Party has increasingly persecuted Chinese Christians in recent years.
Another Christian resident of Guiyang surnamed Li told RFA on Thursday that while the reason behind the sudden raid on the Ren’ai Reformed Church on March 16 remains unclear, the CCP “has strict rules about what can be considered a house church” during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“As far as we can tell, the [CCP’s] United Front Work Department and the secret agencies of the Chinese government have their own definition of what can be called a house church in China,” Li said. “They think it should refer to a family gathering with only relatives present.”
“Currently, religious meetings involving more than one household are banned under pandemic restrictions,” Li added.
An official at a Chinese religious affairs bureau in Panyu – a city located near Guizhou in the province of Guangzhou – confirmed to RFA this week that house church gatherings in the region “are currently restricted to family members only.”