The worst persecution took place in Henan, where 823 Christian pastors and followers were arrested. Those hardest hit were community leaders and teachers: the government fears they may corrupt new generations.
Beijing (AsiaNews) The Chinese Communist regime arrested 1,958 pastors and followers of unofficial Protestant churches over the past year. This was revealed yesterday by the China Aid Association (CAA), a US-based non-governmental organization that lobbies for religious freedom in China. Together with this charge, the organization published a detailed report describing anti-Christian persecution carried out by the authorities of 15 Chinese provinces.
The report said: "Hardest hit by persecution are meetings of Christian pastors and teachers, viewed with particular hostility by the government whose aim is to control the indoctrination of new generations. There is endless proof of ill treatment and torture suffered by community leaders at the hands of police officers and religious affairs cadres."
The most badly affected province was Henan: within 12 months, the authorities arrested 823 Christians in 11 raids. Five American citizens were arrested during the same period.
Many detainees were abused during the time they spent in prison. After the arrest of a group of Christians in Wen County on 13 March, two women, aged 72 and 21, were forced to strip during interrogation. A disabled pastor, Li Gongshe, was severely beaten and had one of his ribs broken.
Beijing allows the practice of Protestant Christianity only within the Movement of the Three Autonomies (MTA), born in 1950 after Mao seized power and the expulsion of foreign missionaries and church leaders, including Chinese ones.
Official statistics reveal that there are 10 million official Protestants in China, all belonging to the MTA. Unofficial Protestants, who meet in unregistered "house churches", are estimated to reach more than 50 million.
The report said: "Local Chinese authorities have continually repressed religious activities that they determine to be outside the scope of the state-controlled religious system. Their decisions are often arbitrarily made in a manner inconsistent with the right to freedom of religion."
The report continued: "Throughout 2005 and into 2006, the crackdown on house church activities deteriorated in some provinces where local officials concentrated on raiding large-scale meetings bringing together Christians from other provinces and cities."
The most serious incident took place in May 2005, when an unusual series of raids led to the arrest of some 600 believers in Jilin Province. The CAA believes this was "an attempt at shutting down the growing influence of the Christian community in the province's charity and academic world."