Chinese Authorities Bulldoze Church, Loot Property After Locking Congregants Inside

Jan 31, 2017 12:43 PM EST

Authorities in China's central Henan province bulldozed a church and looted its property after locking several Christians inside the building's reception office, a persecution watchdog has revealed.

According to China Aid, on Jan. 27, individuals hired by the government forcibly entered Dali Christian Church, a Three-Self congregation, carrying clubs. After locking a church elder, surnamed Ding, the church's temporary director, and several other Christians in the reception office, the intruders confiscated their cell phones, and threw away their SIM cards. No one was allowed to enter the church, and authorities forbade pictures.

Then, intruders smashed and looted church property, before using a front loader to destroy half of the building - all while the Christians remained locked inside.

China Aid notes that this occurrence "sparked fears that the church and cross demolitions, which were symptomatic of a "beautification" campaign in Zhejiang province and targeted many Three-Self Churches, will soon erupt into a nationwide endemic of abuse against government churches."

This is not the first time such a horrific occurance has occuredd in China's central Henan province. Last year, the wife of an underground Protestant clergyman suffocated to death after she was buried alive trying to defend her church from demolition. Her husband, who was also buried, managed to survive.

At the time, China Aid President Bob Fu spoke about the vicious killing by saying, "bulldozing and burying alive Ding Cuimei, a peaceful and devout Christian woman, was a cruel, murderous act."

Fu added in a statement: "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."

Since the 'Three rectification and one demolition' campaign was launched three years ago, over 1,500 crosses have been removed from churches in the south-eastern province of Zhejiang - known as the "Jerusalem of the East" because of its strong Christian presence. Meanwhile, dozens churches labelled "illegal structures" have been demolished in other provinces including Hebei, Hubei and Henan. Those who have resisted have faced physical abuse, detention and criminal charges.

Officially, China is an atheist country, but constitutionally guarantees religious freedom. However, authorities are wary of all religious organizations, viewing them as threatening forces. Currently, the Party is believed to have around 88 million members, whereas there may be up to 100 million Christians in China today.

China is ranked 39th on Open Door USA's World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution.