The wife of a Christian pastor in China's central Henan province suffocated to death after two government workers buried her underground because she attempted to prevent the destruction of a local church.
According to a report by Christian NGO China Aid, over the weekend, a government-backed company dispatched personnel to bulldoze Beitou Church in Zhumadian, Henan province, after a local developer wished to take control of the church's valuable property.
Church pastor Li Jiangong and his wife, Ding Cuimei, stepped in front of the machinery in an attempt to stop the demolition, according to the report.
"Bury them alive for me," a member of the demolition team said. "I will be responsible for their lives."
In a horrific turn of events, the bulldozer shoved Li and Ding into a pit and covered their bodies with soil. While Li was able to dig his way free, his wife suffocated under the dirt before she could be rescued.
Police told the organization that the two perpetrators from the demolition team are currently criminally detained while a criminal investigation team from the public security bureau reviews their case.
However, local believers revealed that the various government departments managing the area did not show up to oversee the demolition, and police took a suspiciously long time to arrive at the scene after a report of the murder was filed.
"Bulldozing and burying alive Ding Cuimei, a peaceful and devout Christian woman, was a cruel, murderous act," China Aid president Bob Fu said. "This case is a serious violation of the rights to life, religious freedom and rule of law. The Chinese authorities should immediately hold those murderers accountable and take concrete measures to protect the religious freedom of this house church's members."
China Aid reveals that the government is pressing Li not to disclose the details of the case to the media, but the pastor continues to urge the justice system to examine the motive and circumstances behind his wife's murder.
This tragic event is simply the latest in a long string of demolitions that are part of an ongoing campaign since 2014 to take down church crosses over alleged building code violations. However, Christian groups believe the targeting is specifically aimed at halting the rise of Christianity in the country.
For the past two years, Christian protesters have steadily gathered outside churches to protect the crosses and prevent the destruction of the buildings. In response, police forces in response have also been growing: Earlier this month, over 100 demolition workers took down the cross atop Shangen Church, and severely injured a female church member protesting the move.
Pastors and human rights activists who protest the campaign have also been targeted in the crackdown. As reported by The Gospel Herald, megachurch leader Gu Yuese of Hangzhou's Chongyi Church, the largest government sanctioned church in China, was arrested after he refused to remove crosses in the church. However, authorities said he has been charged with corruption and embezzlement.
Similarly, Pastor Bao Guohua and his wife Xing Wenxiang have been sentenced to spend 14 years in jail after Chinese authorities charged them with social disorder and corruption. But, according to the supporters of the couple, the indictment on the two exemplifies the government's actions against Christian activities in the country.
The government has also brought formal charges against nearly 20 human rights lawyers who spoke out against the demolitions in the province, and authorities have broadcast coerced "confessions" from several of them.
While the Chinese Communist Party claims to allows "freedom of religious belief, Open Doors USA has placed the country at 33rd on its World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution.