SHANGHAI, China (AP) - Police have detained eight leaders in the country's unauthorized Protestant church movement on charges of violating rules on religious activity, a Texas-based monitoring group said Wednesday.
The detentions came earlier this month in the northern provinces of Shaanxi and Shandong, the China Aid Association reported.
Pastors Zhou Jieming and Niu Wenbin were picked up on June 9 while distributing religious literature in a market place in Shaanxi's Jiaocheng County, along with 10 other church activists, said the Midland, Texas-based group.
While the others were released, Zhou and Niu are being held on "suspicion of using evil cult to obstruct of the enforcement of the law" — a charge authorities use to punish those worshipping outside official Communist Party recognized religious groups.
It wasn't clear what their punishment could be, but the Aid Association said they could face a three-year sentence in a labor camp without the benefit of trial.
Six other church activists were detained in a police raid on a church service being held in a private home in Shandong's Cao County, the group said.
It said four were pastors in the local underground church, but the identities of the other two weren't known. They too face possible labor camp sentences, although police were offering to release them on payment of a fine of about $1,300, the group said.
Officers reached at the Jiaocheng and Cao county police stations said they had no information about the reported detentions. Neither would give their names as is usual with Chinese bureaucrats. Phone numbers for detention centers in the two counties were not listed.
Despite China's strict controls over all religious expression, millions of Chinese risk harassment or arrest by worshipping in independent and unauthorized Christian groups. Sometimes, that is merely a response to a lack of churches and government-set quotas for baptisms, especially in rural areas.
In other cases, underground churches draw on resentment against officials dictating the substance of church teachings. Without a common liturgy, some underground groups have evolved into heterodox sects with little relation to mainstream denominations in the West.
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