Chinese authorities released a Beijing house church pastor who had been under house arrest for nine years.
Persecution watchdog International Christian Concern obtained information from members of Early Rain Covenant Church (ERCC) that Pastor Jin Tianming is no longer under constant surveillance in his home and has not been in house arrest since October.
Jin Tianming is the founder of Shouwang Church, which has about 1,000 members and is one of the largest house churches in Beijing. Authorities had been harassing the church since 2008 because it refused to join the state-controlled Three-Self Patriotic Movement, according to Church in Chains.
The church kept getting evicted from the venues they rented because the government exerted pressure on their landlords. Because of this, the church sometimes held services outdoors. When church members bought a property they could use, the authorities withheld the keys to the building, forcing them to hold services outdoors for good.
Shouwang Church met at a Beijing plaza. It was a difficult time for them because the authorities would come to the services every Sunday and take some of their members away for detention. Other church members were prohibited from leaving their homes on Sundays so they could not attend the services.
In 2011, authorities put six pastors and church leaders under house arrest. Jin Tianming was placed on house arrest in his apartment. His wife and two children live with him.
Jin Tianming's movements were tightly restricted and closely monitored, with police guarding the door of the house on three shifts every day. However, his children were allowed to leave the house and attend school. His wife was also allowed to go out except on Sundays.
Authorities reportedly told him they would lift the house arrest if Shouwang Church would stop meeting outdoors, but he refused and instructed the church not to agree.
Over time, the police relaxed their restrictions on Jim Tianming's movements. They allowed him to leave the apartment for exercise and to go to the grocery, but always with a guard.
Early this year, the church shifted to online services. In May, Jim Tianming appeared as a guest in an online forum, where he was one of the three speakers who discussed about the history of house churches in Beijing.
He said house churches are products of Christians' desire for independence and freedom from state authorities. House churches in China sprouted in the 1950s because churches refused to register as a state-recognized church, he said.
When he joined the online forum, he was not yet free from house arrest. He told the online community that the security officers assigned to him recently apprehended him for going out to attend a small group meeting.
Even though authorities now released Jin Tianming, they continue to harass Shouwang Church by pressuring the landlords of their rented spaces, which caused cancellations of contracts of lease.
Yu Guanhui, an elder of the church, is still being closely watched. There is no news about whether the other pastors who were also put under house arrest have been released or not.