In an effort to stifle the growth of Christianity in the country, officials in China's southern Guangdong province shut down and sealed one branch of a house church, threatening to take action if the church attempted to reopen.
According to a report from China Aid, an organization dedicated to exposing religious persecution and human rights abuse and equipping Christian and church leaders in China, government officials from the local Public Security Comprehensive Management Commission last month placed a seal over the doors to Taihe County branch of Guangfu Church, also known as Taihe Hall, and cut off power and water to the building.
Government officials claimed the church was shut down because the landlord of the building did not have the proper certificates. However, over the past year, government officials have repeatedly pressured the landlord to terminate the church's ten-year contract prematurely and evict the congregation without cause.
Another Guangfu Church branch in the Baiyun District of Guangzhou has recently experienced similar persecution at the hands of government officials, facing evictions, raids, threats and other forms of pressure.
In addition to closing down the church building, authorities also told Ma "Mark" Chao, who's in charge of Guangfu church and had previous altercations with authorities, to refrain from any church-related activities. In an effort to protect the church from permanent closure, Mark spent approximately $75,000 refurbishing the location.
"I want to tell them that they have to use their power according to proper procedures, even if we have actually violated laws," Mark said. "We will not only refuse to follow orders, but also sue officers if they don't do things the right way."
The church's closure is only one of the latest in the government's attempts to clamp down on Christianity as the Communist Party grows increasingly suspicious of the influence of Christianity, which is experiencing significant growth in the country.
"The Chinese Communist Party is violently allergic to non-party organizing vehicles, whether they're nonprofits, libraries or churches," Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, told the Washington Post of the government's obvious discomfort with Christianity.
Over the past year, up to 1,700 churches have been demolished or had their crosses removed in Zhejiang alone province, and a significant number of pastors and human rights lawyers have been arrested and imprisoned.
However Christianity continues to thrive in China: the Chinese government generally puts the number of Protestants (a group it calls "Christians") at 23 million and the number of Catholics at more than 5 million.
The country is number 33 on Open Door USA's World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution.
"The government's goal of maintaining power and social harmony includes the control of all religions, including the quickly growing Christian minority," reads the report.