Authorities have stepped up efforts to shut down house churches in parts of mainland China in response to ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Top of the list are house churches with ties to the former British colony and are being targeted under the pretext of preventing unrest spreading to the mainland, observers said.
The crackdown is seen as an attempt by Beijing to tighten control over visiting Hongkongers in response to many Christians having taken to the streets of Hong Kong in support of the protesters.
Up to 30 government officials recently stormed a house church in Dali prefecture in China’s southwestern Yunnan province that was run by two missionaries from Hong Kong and was often visited by Hongkongers, according to Bitter Winter, an online magazine that focuses on religious freedom and human rights in China.
Three people were arrested and taken away for interrogation, several congregation members said. The two from Hong Kong were ordered not to stage further gatherings and threatened with deportation, they added.
The two eventually left after being repeatedly hauled in for questioning.
“If they stayed here, they might have been punished even more severely,” Bitter Winter quoted one congregation member as saying.
The church had its Bibles and hymn books seized and was also ordered to disband its Bible groups, while the venue’s landlord was told to stop renting the property to the church.
A house church meeting in Zhangwang, in China’s eastern Shandong province was also closed down under a similar pretext, Bitter Winter reported.
Police reportedly claimed that because of the Hong Kong protests registration was now required if 10 or more Hong Kong residents wished to gather in mainland China.
Meanwhile, Chinese authorities destroyed a megachurch in the Funan, Anhui region on Oct. 18 and arrested its pastors.
No documents ordering the 3,000-seat church be destroyed was provided according to China Aid, an international non-profit Christian human rights organization.
Officials however did come with arrest warrants for the two pastors, Geng Yimin and Sun Yongyao, who were both held on suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order.”
The demolition reportedly began while some worshippers were still inside the church.