Less than two weeks before Christmas, twenty nine house church leaders were arrested in the province of Henan in China, a Texax-based religious watchdog group reported on Monday.
According to an eye witness report, 40 police officers with 8 police vehicles raided a house church leadership gathering in Xiapigang village, Dungang town, Xincai county, in the province of Henan, China on Dec. 12, the China Aid Association said.
100 leaders, who CAA identified as important church leaders from Henan and Anhui Province, convened in the home of one of the believers to discuss how the house churches can effectively help the majority of peasants diagnosed with AIDS. They planned to focus their attention on one area known for transferring the AIDS virus through a local blood center that infected many peasants.
According to the source, 29 leaders were arrested. Among them were Pastor Shen Yiping, known as the founder of the internationally known house church group called China Gospel Fellowship, and the host of the meeting, Yang Huamin. The source added that along with the arrests, their belongings were confiscated, which included three motor bicycles, one cell phone, winter blankets, and all of their luggage.
One pastor who was at the meeting said the officers showed a search warrant and stated the meeting was an "illegal religious gathering," CAA reported the Pastor as saying.
Churches that are not registered with the government are labeled "illegal" or "unofficial" and are subjected to persecution, interrogations or detentions. The government urges Christians to register their churches under the government or the Three Self Patriotic Movement, but Christians say that registering with the government will only place restrictions on their worship.
The lawyer that will represent them is Zhang Xingshui, the director of Beijing Jingding Law Firm, who also defended Cai Zhuohua, the pastor that was sentenced to three years for publishing and distributing Bibles.
Religious freedom continues to prod China to acknowledge the freedom to worship without "state control," and join the world in its effort to enact such rights to its people. In addition, President George W. Bush has stressed recently that if religious freedom is implemented, it can contribute to China's rapid growth.