Authorities in Beijing broke up a 16-year-old Christian prayer network and shut down its member churches.

The International Christian Concern (ICC) reported that the religious affairs bureau recently summoned the pastors involved in the Beijing Ministerial Joint Prayer Network (BMJPN) for questioning. The authorities told the pastors to refrain from "illegal religious activities," pointing out that BMJPN is not registered with the state.

The pastors were also told to close down their churches and to stop preaching online.

The BMJPN has been in existence since 2004. It was established by Pastor Jin Mingri, who is from Shouwang Church, one of the largest underground Protestant churches in China. Jin Tianming, the previous pastor of Shouwang Church, was put under house arrest in 2011 for holding services at a city plaza after the church got evicted.

Pastor Jin Mingri urged many pastors in China to always pray for revival in the country, and the prayer network grew. His efforts brought together many pastors not just from Beijing but also from other locations.

China's crackdown on churches has intensified in recent months amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A report released by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) in September revealed that the harassment and persecution of house churches went on even while the country battled the pandemic.

The report said authorities continued to remove crosses from church buildings and banned Christians from meeting in different places. The government suppressed church meetings, including online worship services and gatherings, like the ones held by BMJPN.

Christians in China were hoping they would get a reprieve from all the harassment because of the pandemic, but the opposite happened. CSW found that there has been a "rapid and significant decline in religious freedom" not just among underground Christian churches, but also among those that are registered with the state.

"Although the PRC Constitution clearly stipulates that citizens have freedom of religious belief, this freedom has been repeatedly undermined by various regulations of the government's administrative departments," the report said.

ICC pointed out that the quarantines that were meant to curb the spread of the virus became the perfect excuse to prevent churches from meeting.

When the government eased the lockdowns, churches were among the last to be reopened. Movie houses and restaurants were allowed to operate before churches were permitted to reopen, and even then, the government required them to acquire permits from various government offices, Asia News reported.

Authorities have been demolishing or repurposing places of worship to prevent Christians from coming together. Last year alone, they destroyed or converted 70 church buildings in Lianyungang and Suqian, prefecture-level cities located in Jiangsu Province. Some of the have been turned into CCP propaganda centers. Others were converted into entertainment venues and factories. Those that were not demolished or repurposed have been sold or rented out.