On Saturday 12 May, police raided Early Rain Blessing Church in Chengdu, capital of China’s southwestern Sichuan province, as the congregation prepared to commemorate the 10th anniversary of an earthquake that killed almost 90,000 people and left millions homeless. Pastor Wang Yi and two hundred members were detained until late that evening, when nearly all were released.
On 28 May, twelve church members including Pastor Wang and a lawyer were detained when they visited Caojixiang Public Security Bureau to file a legal complaint about the incident. The group was detained at the bureau, several were handcuffed, and some Christians who had gathered outside the bureau were beaten when they refused to disperse. The detained Christians (some of whom are pictured, right) were all released the next day.
At 11pm on Friday 11 May, local public security officers arrived at Pastor Wang’s home to warn him that the planned commemoration service was illegal as the church did not have the necessary permit to hold such an event.
An officer informed Pastor Wang that the event would violate the new Religious Affairs Regulations that came into force on 1 February 2018. Article 69 prohibits the establishment of religious venues without government approval, and since Early Rain is not registered with the government-run Three-Self Patriotic Movement, it is not considered a legal religious venue. The official ordered Pastor Wang to cancel the commemoration or face legal consequences.
Pastor Wang replied, “Then come tomorrow and do whatever you are going to do according to the law. We will still meet tomorrow. Feel free to arrest us… We will safeguard our legal rights according to the laws: applying for petitions and administrative review, and filing lawsuits.”
Soon after, a police officer arrived with a subpoena for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and brought Pastor Wang to the local police station for questioning. Police also detained church preacher Li Yingqiang.
The two leaders ignored the warning, and when church members arrived for a prayer meeting at 7.30 next morning they found over a hundred police officers lying in wait to block the entrance of the office building where the church meets. The police took thirty Christians to the local station in police cars, and put several others under house arrest.
More congregants arrived for the 9.30 am service, and the police continued to arrest them, including elderly Christians and children – in total, police detained more than two hundred church members and confiscated over 15,000 Christian books (including Bibles) and almost 1,000 CDs. Some congregants stood outside the building singing Amazing Grace, and police confiscated many of their phones to keep them from posting the scene online. The Christians were held in various locations, and the authorities beat and insulted some of them.
Under the presidency of Xi Jinping, China’s Communist Party has increased control over religious affairs and is overseeing the “Sinicisation” of religion, with the aim of making it more Chinese. Pastor Wang had previously criticised the new Religious Affairs Regulations, saying he considers them a violation of religious freedom and calling on Christians to resist them.
An anonymous source in Chengdu told World Watch Monitor that the government is increasing pressure on churches across China. “It seems that local authorities are pressurised to enforce the religious regulations to a certain extent, to at least take some action,” said the source, adding that churches that hold meetings in commercial buildings “are targeted and the authorities close the church venues. Also, more landlords refuse to continue rental contracts with churches. Hence, these local churches are forced to return to house meetings.”
Pastor Wang is a former law professor with a background in constitutional law. He often speaks out about the government’s illegal treatment of churches and is often detained on “sensitive” dates such as 12 May, the anniversary of the earthquake, or 4 June, the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Pastor Wang finished writing his sermon for Sunday 13 May, titled “The Way of the Cross, the Life of the Martyr”, in detention at the police station. The service went ahead, although the church had been officially banned, and he is pictured preaching his sermon.
The pastor praised church members for their courage, saying: “I am grateful for you because we did not try to retreat, hide, or escape from the coming of this day, but we welcomed it with praise and zeal.”
The church later issued a statement in which it accused officials of violating the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China by illegally depriving citizens of freedom of religion, and said it would file a lawsuit.
Student repeatedly struck during interrogation
A Christian who was interrogated and beaten for attending the commemoration has written a letter describing the persecution he experienced. Theology student Song Enguang describes a harsh interrogation during officials questioned him on his Bible knowledge and struck thirty times in the face. Pastor Wang says the church is pursuing legal action against the officers who abused Song Enguang.
(China Aid/World News Group/World Watch Monitor)