Police in China’s Shenzhen city disrupted the fifth-anniversary celebrations of a house church and harassed members because they feared the congregation was going to baptize new believers, according to reports.
Trinity Gospel Harvest Church in Guangdong province celebrated its anniversary earlier this month by taking a trip together to the Huizhou beach. But police warned some members not to go and forcibly canceled the hotel reservation of the remaining group, the U.S.-based persecution watchdog organizations International Christian Concern and China Aid have reported.
The house church has been on the government's radar since its leaders signed a statement titled “A Declaration for the Sake of the Christian Faith" penned by pastor Wang Yi of the heavily persecuted Early Rain Covenant Church. The declaration advocates for religious freedom.
On Sept. 4, the day before the anniversary celebration, the hotel owner informed members who were having lunch at a restaurant that he was canceling their reservation and would refund the payment.
He said their church’s pastor, Mao Zhibin, and four other Christians had been asked by the local police station not to hold the celebrations.
When the restaurant owner learned about the ordeal, he offered a villa for people to stay overnight. However, the five Christians on the blacklist had trouble finding a place to stay as all the local hotels had been notified by the police of their status. But, they were able to stay at the home of a local farmer.
Late in the night, police visited the villa where members of the celebration were staying. Two officers checked everyone’s identification and forced those without IDs to stay elsewhere. The owner reportedly had to move the guests to other rooms before being interrogated at the police station until 4 a.m.
On the day of the anniversary, many police officers were reportedly at the Huizhou beach as the local authorities had mistakenly assumed that the church would conduct baptisms.
This is not the first time that authorities have cracked down on the activities of Shenzhen Trinity Gospel Harvest Church.
In July, security agents, police officers and other officials surrounded the house church and forced Pastor Mao and Elder Chu Yanqing to stop preaching during an online worship service on Zoom.
China ranks as the 17th-worst country globally when it comes to Christian persecution on Open Doors USA's 2021 World Watch List.
Open Doors, which covers persecution in over 60 countries, states that Chinese Christians face increasing pressure from the government. From 2020 to 2021, China jumped six places on the World Watch List. Over the last three years, China has risen 26 spots on the World Watch List rankings amid a "rapidly deteriorating situation for Christians."
In recent years, there has been an increase in raids and harassment of Christians while thousands of churches have been damaged, confiscated or destroyed. Open Doors warns that laws regulating religion passed in 2018 continue to be rolled out in provinces nationwide.
The country has also been labeled by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” for engaging in severe violations of religious freedom.
Open Doors estimates that China has more than 97 million Christians, many of whom worship in unregistered or “illegal” underground churches.
ICC documented more than 100 incidents of Christian persecution in China between July 2020 and June 2021 as the country’s communist regime seeks to forcefully convert independent religious groups into mechanisms of the Chinese Communist Party.
Earlier this year, authorities in China removed Bible apps and Christian WeChat public accounts as restrictive administrative measures on religious staff went into effect this year.