Government officials in China's southern Guangdong province seized 30 members of a house church before sealing the building and charging its pastor with "conducting activities in the name of a social organization without registration."
According to persecution watchdog China Aid, officials from the religious affairs bureau and police department interrupted Olive Tree Church's weekly worship service in July and took pictures of the scene before confiscating church property. After taking taking thirty congregants to the local police station for questioning, authorities sealed the church building and permanently banned its members from meeting.
Church leader Jiang Jianping was also interrogated and charged with "conducting activities in the name of a social organization without registration." The pastor, along with three others, were detained for four days before they were finally released.
The report notes that the brutal treatment was too much for Jiang Jianping's mother, who collapsed and was rushed to a hospital after being brought to the police station.
This is not the first time Olive Tree Church has experienced severe persecution at the hands of local authorities: In 2014, more than 100 police officers raided the church along with another house of worship and apprehended six Christians, including Tan Xiuhong, a lawyer who practices in England. That night, their families received notices stating they had been charged with "using a cult organization to undermine law enforcement."
China claims to grant freedom of religion; however, the Communist government has shown unease over the rapid growth of Christianity in the region, causing Open Doors USA to place it 33rd on its World Watch List of countries where believers face the most persecution. The Pew Research Center puts the number of Christians in China at 67 million, 58 million of whom are Protestant and 9 million Catholic.
Over the past two years, the Communist party has removed the rooftop crosses from thousands of churches in a number of provinces, claiming that the Christian symbols mounted atop the worship centers were violating building codes.
In addition, from July to September 2015, China detained or arrested more than 250 attorneys, pastors, and human rights activists for protesting the cross removals.
In April, retired Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong called on Beijing to end the persecution of Christians and allow religious freedom, insisting that those who keep silent about such matters are guilty of being "accomplices."
"Facing all this persecution, we cannot take it for granted. We cannot stand idly. If we keep silent, we are accomplices," he said, according to UCA News.