With the number of Christians in China growing steadily, sources say the Chinese government seems determined to restrict the spread of Christianity in the country. In an article written by the Wall Street Journal last week, the news agency reported that authorities are now using the same tactics against Christian churches that they deployed to suppress the Falun Gong movement.
According to the Journal, China's political leadership ordered the crackdown late last year to be carried out by an offshoot of the task force that coordinated the campaign against the Falun Gong.
Falun Gong, a highly controversial practice in China, has reportedly been suffering from a brutal and systematic crackdown for the past few years, resulting in the detainment of tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners in China, and the deaths of several hundreds. Sources report also that thousands have been sent to labor camps without trial and/or tortured while in police custody, hundreds of which have died as a result.
Sources now believe that a similar course may await Christians, as China targets regions where religious fervor is on the rise.
"The spread of Christianity is really worrying the government, so it has become a target," said Kang Xiaoguang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences to the Wall Street Journal.
The government is targeting what it terms "cults," which are only loosely described. In practice the term is applied to whatever groups have not received official permission to operate. Apart from the continued persecution of Catholic groups that do not submit to official control, the government is particularly worried about evangelical and Protestant groups, who have been rapidly expanding.
Two groups active in documenting religious persecution, the Center for Religious Freedom, a division of Freedom House, and Compass Direct, have collected news on the crackdown by authorities from a wide range of sources. Among the reports from past months are the following items.
July 22: More than 100 religious leaders were arrested in the western province of Xinjiang. The arrests came during a meeting organized by the Ying Shang Church, a large house-church network headquartered in Anhui Province. The arrests came shortly after 40 house-church leaders were arrested while attending a training seminar in Cheng Du City in the province of Sichuan.
July 19: Chinese authorities detained and interrogated house-church leader Samuel Lamb after worship services on June 13. Ten of his co-workers were also detained and interrogated. This is the first time in 14 years that Chinese authorities have taken repressive steps against Lamb, who reportedly hosts 3,000 worshippers per week at his meeting place in Guangzhou.
July 5: A 34-year-old woman was beaten to death in jail on the day she was arrested for handing out Bibles in Guizhou province. Police arrested Jiang Zongxiu on June 18 on suspicion of "spreading rumors and inciting to disturb social order," according to the local press. Her mother-in-law, Tan Dewei, was arrested with Jiang but later released. She said police kicked Jiang repeatedly during interrogation.
June 23: The Vatican strongly protested to China over the arrest of three Catholic bishops -- one of them 84 years old -- in the previous month. The statement called the bishops' arrest "inconceivable in a country based on laws." The 84-year-old bishop of Xuanhua was arrested May 27. Another two bishops, from Xiwanzi and Zhengding, were detained for several days in June.
May 24: Gu Xianggao, a teacher in a house-church group, was beaten to death by Public Security Bureau officers.
May 16: Two Catholic priests, Lu Genjun and Cheng Xiaoli, were arrested May 14 in An Guo, Hebei province, by government security policemen. The priests were set to begin classes for natural family planning and moral theology courses. Father Lu was previously arrested on Palm Sunday 1998 for a short period. He was arrested again shortly before Easter in 2001 and detained for three years.
May 10: Chinese Christians gave evidence of persecution at a special meeting called by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in April. The speakers testified to beatings, imprisonment, torture and harassment. Female members of the South China Church also testified to torture and sexual assault at the hands of police officers. Their evidence was supported by documents and a video showing the destruction of a church in Zhejiang province.
According to the Voice of the Martyrs, there are currently more Christians in prison in China than any other country in the world. The only legal churches are those strictly controlled by the government of China. Those who do not wish to follow government policies on religious practice and beliefs must meet in homes and risk being labeled as "evil cults" which can result in closing down the church, confiscation of property, and charges against the leadership, often resulting in torture, imprisonment and death.
Last week, Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom urged U.S. delegates to last weekend’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Singapore to pressure China to grant full religious liberty to its citizens.