In the midst of the high-profile China-U.S. talks, a U.S.-based persecution watchdog unveils that seven foreign evangelical church leaders are recently arrested in a massive gathering in China.
On March 23, 80 Chinese house church leaders from 20 provinces were attending a fellowship meeting with Christian leaders from America in the suburb of Kunming City, the capital of Yunnan Province. At 9: 30 a.m., over 120 security officers from five different government agencies raided the gathering, according to the Texas-based Chinese persecution watchdog China Aid Association (CAA).
An eyewitness said to CAA, the Chinese officers’ attitudes were very "rude" and they refused to show their IDs and even ate all of the food prepared for the pastors’ lunch. Five Americans and two Taiwanese were arrested and interrogated for five hours.
In China, the role of foreigners in religious activity is governed and monitored by the State Administration for Religious Activities (SARA) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) United Front Work Department (UFWD).
In January, Jia Qinglin, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, condemned foreigners are infiltrating China "under cover of religions," on a seminar with the heads of China’s state-run religious affairs bureaus.
The government is therefore trying to scrutinize closely contacts between citizens and foreigners involved in religion. Under the existing religious regulation effective on March 1, 2005, all places of worships are required to register and one of the prerequisites is that it must not be "subject to any foreign domination."
According to the International Religious Freedom Report 2005 published by the U.S. Department of State, the authorities have displayed increasing tolerance of religious practice by foreigners. Foreign nationals are allowed to preach to other foreigners, bring in religious materials for personal use, and preach to Chinese citizens at churches, mosques, and temples at the invitation of registered religious organizations. However, proselytizing or religious observance involving Chinese nationals are banned.
This time, the five arrested Americans - two white and three Chinese - are from churches in North Carolina. The foreign religious leaders were accused of being foreign religious infiltrators by their interrogators, report says.
CAA learned this raid was directly orchestrated by the director of the Public Security Bureau of Yunnan Province and carried out jointly by the officers from the provincial public security, national security, foreign affairs office, religious affairs bureau and military police officers.
Meanwhile, all the Chinese believers and some American pastors were released. However, two white American pastors are still inside China and some of the released Chinese pastors are still monitored by the Chinese security agents, their names are not available to the public, one of the arrested pastors who came back to his home in the U.S. said to CAA.
Rev. Bob Fu, chairman of CAA, urges the US President Bush to discuss these specific cases with Chinese President Hu.