An American organization lobbying for religious freedom in China claimed: "Police raids against unofficial Christians are continuing and becoming ever more violent"
Washington (AsiaNews) On the day of the visit to the White House of China's President, Hu Jintao, the China Aid Association [CAA an American NGO lobbying for religious freedom in China] denounced new and ever more violent persecution against Chinese Protestant Christians. CAA investigators on the ground in China said police raided a meeting of Protestant pastors in Yunnan on 23 March.
In a statement, the CAA said: "At 9:30am, March 23, over 120 security officers from five different government agencies raided a conference building in the suburb of Kunming City, the capital of Yunnan Province seven foreign evangelical church leaders were present at the meeting, including five Americans and two Taiwanese, who were apprehended by police and interrogated for no good reason."
The statement continued: "More than 80 Chinese house church leaders from 20 provinces, representing 25 Chinese minority groups, were attending the meeting. The five Americans lead churches in Greensboro North Carolina. Among them, two were Americans and three Chinese Americans. Since they are still in China, their names cannot be made available to the public for security reasons."
The CAA said it was "certain" the raid "was directly orchestrated by the director of the Yunnan Public Security Office, and carried out jointly by the officers from the provincial public security, national security, foreign affairs office, religious affairs bureau and military police officers. Eyewitnesses said the interrogation was very tough and the police refused to show their ID cards."
The foreign pastors were accused of "illegal religious infiltration" and their Chinese counterparts were subjected to "inhuman torture" during interrogation including forced administration of drugs and other abusive methods to extract a "confession of guilt".
According to information revealed by the organization, "persecution against unofficial churches in China has intensified". "From February to December 2005, there were at least 1,317 confirmed arrests of unofficial church pastors, leaders, and believers in over 20 provinces in China. During this time, 17 foreign missionaries, including 11 Americans, were arrested in 10 provinces, interrogated and thrown out of the country for good".
Rev. Cao Shenjie, president of the China Christian Council, [government controlled Protestant organisation], tells a different story. Addressing a press conference on 19 April, he said: "Some Christians are arrested because they
violate the law, I haven't heard of any cases of Christians being arrested because of their faith." Cao further said: "I don't think there's such a term as 'underground churches'. Certainly there are some Christians who congregate in homes but we don't call these underground churches. According to my experience, we are free to hold services in churches and we don't have activities in public places because we don't want to cause religious disharmony."
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.