Over 100 Christians, including children, were arrested during a house church raid in China as authorities continue to crack down on the growing Christian population within the country.
On Sunday, close to 200 police officers stormed in during the service at Mt. Olivet Church which was held in Foshan city in China's Guangdong Province, eyewitnesses said.
"We don't know exactly why they raided our church," a local believer told watchdog group International Christian Concern.
"The government does not want us to get together and worship as a church."
Members of the congregation report that the church was raided without any warning, and that police only left behind a notice stating that people were detained for an "illegal gathering." Currently, over 30 parishioners remain in custody.
"It is unbelievable that local authorities arrested over 100 church members, including children, in Foshan city. Even though most people have been released, the experience has been traumatizing," said ICC's Regional Manager for Southeast Asia, Sooyoung Kim.
"ICC urges local authorities in Guangdong Province to respect its citizens' rights to religious freedom, that the government of China says are upheld, and free these innocent Christians as soon as possible."
Because all government-approved churches are legal in China, all house churches are considered "illegal gatherings." However, even sanctioned churches have been targeted by the government in recent months, with officials explaining that they have been "removing or modifying illegal constructions."
Thus far, authorities have removed over 300 crosses and demolished innumerable Christian churches around the city of Wenzhou. Hundreds of Christians have been injured as congregations attempt to stop local police from destroying religious imagery and places of worship.
"What the government here is doing is so barbaric," local church leader Chen Zhi'ai told CNN.
In July, influential Chinese leader Zhang Shaojie was sentenced to 12 years in prison after allegedly for gathering crowds "to disturb public order." Persecution watchdog groups have called pastor 's imprisonment and the continued crackdown on churches further evidence of China's attempt to hold back the growth of Christianity--a charge the government continues to deny.
"This case shows the Chinese government continues to cover up religious persecution with fabricated criminal charges against an innocent church leader," China Aid head Bob Fu said at the time.