China: Small House Church With Less than 50 Members Closed Down for Not Registering Though No Such Requirement Cited by Law

Persecution of churches in China is soaring. |

A house church in China was closed down by the authorities on the ground that it was running illegally.

The church situated in northwestern province of Sichuan, was told that it cannot hold meetings, as they had not registered with the government.

However, the state rules require a membership of at least 50 people, before a church can apply for registration. The government officials, notably, overlooked the regulation when they prohibited the church from conducting services. The church members say this is an act of suppression of religious freedom by the government.

Li Shengfen, a church member, told China Aid, "It seems as if, according to the ... stipulations, 30-50 people are required to apply. We don't have that many people. Is meeting together with our friends and neighbors in our home not OK? He said we could not meet together. I said, 'How is this called religious freedom?'"

The member said that other officials also came to investigate the church.

"They looked at our Bibles. After that, in order to understand our church, they looked at our poetry. Because the place where we worship has a cross, a Bible and some scripture on the walls, they looked at it all. I said, 'Right now, is this freedom of religion?;"

China officially guarantees freedom of religion, but in practice, government oversight looms over those churches that are not strictly under state sanction, according to human rights activists. Suppression of religious freedom intensified during the regime of President Xi Jinping, as during the past two years more human rights activists were arrested than in the past two decades.

This week, authorities in the neighboring state of Guizhou notified Houshi Church to close down, and confiscated equipment used in the church without a state-issued warrant, VOA reports. The members cite a number of reasons for being under the radar of the government.

"Firstly, our quick expansion. Secondly, we refused to cave into pressure or join the [party-controlled] Three-Self Patriotic Church. And thirdly, we always take legal action in face of difficulties. I think these three aspects have annoyed [officials] very much," a church member told VOA. Houshi Church grew from a few dozens of members in 2009 to more than 700 today, according to VOA.

In the eastern province of Zhejiang, some 1,700 church buildings have been razed to the ground or had their crosses removed since March 2013 when the provincial government launched its "Three Rectifications and One Demolition" campaign.