Sola Fide believers were arrested and beaten in Hubei, after having been told that even gathering for a dinner is an illegal religious activity.
House Church Christians Beaten in Xiangyang
For Christians, even getting together for a meal is now off-limits in China. It seems that dinners are now considered religious gatherings, which as such should be authorized.
That’s the hard lesson 11 believers from a Sola Fide house church in Xiangyang city in central China’s Hubei Province learned on March 13, 2019, the night they were arrested after having dinner together. Just as the believers were leaving the meeting venue, they were surrounded by more than 20 police officers, who rounded them up, herded them into police cars and took them down to the police station. The officers reported they had been tipped-off, possibly by neighbors seeking a reward for having denounced an illegal religious gathering.
Bitter Winter has learned that, when one believer, a woman in her 60s, simply asked the cops what they were doing, the answer was a punch on her chest. The woman suffers from heart disease and high blood pressure. Ignoring her condition, the police officer assaulted her until she passed out. When she woke, he continued the attack.
At the police station, personnel from the local Religious Affairs Bureau reprimanded the believers, saying they are not allowed to hold gatherings, and much less to preach in other regions. In fact, some of them had come by bus from another county, which the government officials considered as forbidden “cross-regional preaching.” Ultimately, the believers were released, but the health of the woman with heart problems continued to deteriorate. She developed an irregular heartbeat, vomiting, and urinary incontinence. She was taken to a hospital where it was determined that she had multiple injuries to her chest, abdomen and face. In addition, her heart condition worsened. More than 3,000 RMB (about $450) had to be spent on hospitalization expenses.
The woman prepared a written report about the incident, and asked the government for an explanation. Not only did officials not provide one, they gave her something else. Another warning. As reported to Bitter Winter by local believers, she was told that, “Believing in God is illegal. If you continue holding gatherings, we will arrest you once again.” When she complained that all this was illegal, and mentioned that the Chinese Constitution includes a provision about freedom of belief, an officer answered, “How can you talk about the law with me? Whatever I say is the law. Otherwise, go ahead and file a lawsuit.”
A Church Shut Down in Suizhou
Recently, meeting venues of various house churches (including some from Sola Fideand Seventh-day Adventist Church) in Hubei have been suppressed and shut down. On April 8, Xinwang Church, located in Hubei’s Suizhou city, was raided. More than 30 officials from the National Security Brigade and the local Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau stormed into the meeting venue, confiscated the church’s assets and shut down the meeting venue on the grounds that its gatherings were illegal.
Believers of Xinwang Church are having a gathering.
The church’s director requested the police present their law enforcement credentials, but was refused. He wanted to take photos to document the police’s raid, but was arrested and escorted to the police station, where he was interrogated about the number of people in the church, as well as how much money the church has. Three other church co-workers were also detained, interrogated and warned that they would not be allowed to hold gatherings anymore.
After the church’s director was released, he went to the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau seeking to get the church’s assets back, but the head of the Bureau said the church is an illegal religious group that conducts illegal missionary activities, so the believers’ offerings constitute illegal religious donations and should be confiscated.
The meeting venue of Xinwang Church after it was cleared out.
A co-worker from the church told Bitter Winter that the local government officials once ordered them to join the Three-Self Church, but this was met by strong opposition from the church members. “Externally, the Chinese government talks about freedom of religion. Domestically, they are placing everything under government control. They don’t allow Three-Self churches to talk about God’s creation. They have to talk about evolution, and their sermons and lectures on the Bible must be reviewed by the government beforehand,” explained the church co-worker. “Portraits of Xi Jinping and Mao Zedong must be hung in the Three-Self churches. They also have to put up ‘red [national] flags’ and sing ‘red songs.’ How is that a place for worshipping God?”