By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife) -- Over 20 Christians detained during the demolition of a large church in Zhejiang Province were believed to be still in prison Monday, August 14, amid fears that more churches would be destroyed by Chinese security forces as part of what local believers called the worst persecution in 140 years.
At least 50 Christians were arrested July 29 when police clashed with about 3,000 Christians who tried to prevent the demolition of their nearly completed church building in Xiaoshan, a district on the outskirts of the resort city of Hangzhou in Zhejiang, said US-based religious rights group China Aid Association (CAA).
About half of them were released and so far only five of the fifty Christians who were arrested during the Dangshan church demolition received a formal notification of what authorities call "criminal detention," suggesting a crime was committed, the group explained. "More than 20 are still locked up without any formal charges," CAA stressed.
Citing former prisoners, CAA claimed that the Christians "were cruelly tortured during interrogation" adding that at least three suffered broken ribs. Female Christians were allegedly forced to strip in public. In addition some homes were searched and properties confiscated, the group said.
"Christians in Xiaoshan said the level of persecution has surpassed that during the CulturalRevolution," launched by Communist Party of China Chairman Mao Zedong in 1966, CAA claimed. It is also "the most serious in the Xiaoshan churches 140 year history," CAA told BosNewsLife.
It quoted "reliable sources" as saying that the government of Zhejiang Province "is planning to demolish two other churches in Shaoxing City of Zhejiang Province."
Chinese officials have defended the recent destruction of the church, saying it was an "illegal building" as apparently no permits were issued. CAA added that besides destruction of churches, there has been mounting concern over church leaders involved in mission activities.
In published statements, the Cardinal Kung Foundation said that last month, July 30, police in Zhangjiakou in Hebei province arrested Yao Liang, 82, an auxiliary bishop of the Xiwanzi diocese. On August 1, Father Li Huisheng, 33, from the same diocese, was also arrested.
In an unrelated incident, CAA reported that a Sunday School teacher's training course was raided by security police in Huainan City, Anhui on July 27 apparently under the pretext Christians "were disturbing the peace." Ninety children who were present were released after registering their names. The forty adults were held until early the next morning. Pastor Li Lizhong, 40, and Cai Yili, 38, were each given fifteen days of administrative custody without charges.
CAA also said it learned that Pastor Hu Qinghua of the Three-Self Church in Pinglu County of Shanxi Province was prohibited from preaching and forced to leave the church by the Religious Affairs Bureau after inviting a Hong Kong based American preacher last month.
The Pinglu Church invited American Pastor Dennis Balcombe, who is also known as Bao Dening, to visit the church. Pastor Balcombe was born in the United States and is an active missionary in Asia. He contributed "a great deal to the charismatic revival in Henan Province in the mid 1980s," said CAA, which has close contacts with local believers. He is now senior pastor of Revival Christian Church in Hong Kong.
Human rights activists have linked the reported crackdown to worries among Communist officials about the spread of Christianity in China. There are currently an estimated 80 million Christians in the country, and church observers claim that number is rapidly increasing. (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from China).
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