Christian camp leaders in China's northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region were detained by Communist authorities and imprisoned for nearly two weeks for "indoctrinating minors with superstitious beliefs".
According to persecution watchdog China Aid, Zhou Yanhua and Gao Ming, both members of Yining County Church, were detained by police half an hour before taking a group of children to a summer camp.
Gao, a 27-year-old seminary student at Yanjing Theological Seminary, was detained for 15 days, while Zhou, the head of the church sponsoring the summer camp, received a 10-day detention after she told police that she was the organizer of the event in an attempt to free Gao.
Both women were accused of indoctrinating minors with superstitious beliefs; according to Chinese legislation, children under the age of 18 may not receive any religious education. The government-sanctioned Protestant church, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, specifically forbids its members from "brainwashing" teenagers with religious beliefs and bringing children to religious activities.
China Aid notes that Gao's status as a student at an official, government-sanctioned seminary reveals that not only house churches are at risk for government suppression.
In addition to detaining the two women, authorities took all of the children present to the police station to register their IDs. Police then called the families and school teachers of the children involved, threatening to deduct the teachers' wages or keep the students from being admitted to higher grade levels.
In the past, the Communist government has warned Christian parents and church leaders they will face disciplinary action if they involve their children in any religious activities. In July, officials issued an order cautioning Christian parents to refrain from taking their children to churches not approved by the government, or risk their offspring being banned from attending college or serving in the military.
China's government has increasingly tightened its grip on Christianity, whose followers are said to rival in number the 86 million members of the Communist Party. The Pew Research Center puts the number of Christians in China at 67 million, 58 million of whom are Protestant and 9 million Catholic.
Since 2014, local governments have removed more than 1,200 crosses from churches and other buildings, citing regulations on illegal structures. 500 activists and lawyers who opposed the cross demolition campaign have been detained in the last year, with many still imprisoned.
The ongoing targeting of Christians prompted Open Doors USA top place the country at 33rd on its World Watch List of countries where believers face the most persecution.