Reports from monitoring groups are claiming that five American church leaders were arrested by government authorities in the northern province of China earlier this week.
Groups including the Texas-based China Aid Association say four of the detained leaders were holding a Christian fellowship gathering near a mall before officials broke up the meeting in Luoyang City, 460 miles south of Beijing. Included in the arrest was one American couple and 25 natives who were taking part in the gathering.
Later that afternoon, an American Christian worker and a native pastor were detained by plain clothed police officers in Yichuan City of Henan province.
Officials in China who were contacted denied reports of both arrests. The locations of those arrested are unknown.
Despite China's declaration of religious freedom, the government strictly monitors the development of churches across the country. The only Protestant churches authorized to give worship in the country are those who follow the government-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). In response to such strict observation, many Christians have taken alternative approaches to practice their faith, including worship through "unofficial" churches - often referred to as "house churches." According to reports, over 50 million followers make up the congregations of house churches in China.
"The Chinese authorities are still very, very wary that this kind of development, this religion developing could take away more legitimacy from the government and the state," Human Rights in China Spokesman Nicolas Becquelin told the Associated Press.
Fearful that the growing Christian communities may take away from their ruling power, the government strictly monitors church activity, allowing worship only in tightly controlled state churches.
However, as people in China lose confidence in the Marxist ideology that governs their life, many are turning to religion.
"Not many people in China still believe in Marxism or Communism and therefore there is a sort of spiritual void," said Becquelin.
However, reports say those who meet outside the government's tightly controlled state churches are still frequently harassed, fined and sometimes sent to labor camps.
Though United States Embassy in China could not confirm the most recent arrests in Luonyang, it issued a statement confirming full effort to investigate the incident.