CHINESE Christians have accused police of using a crackdown on “evil cults” as a cover to intensify their persecution of the country’s underground church, The UK Telegraph reports. High-profile “anti-cult” campaigns have been rolled out across China since June when five cult members beat a woman to death in a McDonald’s restaurant after she rejected their attempts to recruit her.
Two of the perpetrators, who were members of the notorious Eastern Lightning cult, were sentenced to death earlier this month. More than 1,000 members of the group – which is also known as the Church of Almighty God – were “captured” between June and September, state media reported this week. However, members of China’s “house church” movement – an officially illegal but generally tolerated community made up of tens of millions of Christians – claim their members have also been caught up in the police action.
Authorities were “using the crackdown on cults as an opportunity to crack down on house churches,” said one Christian leader from Guizhou province, who asked not to be named. Other Christian leaders said they believed poorly trained police were targeting orthodox congregations they had confused with potentially dangerous cults. Since the anti-cult crackdown began, there has been a spike in reports of raids on house churches spanning at least nine provinces or regions.
The Guizhou pastor said his church had recently been surrounded by up to 200 police officers who detained 12 church members on charges of “illegal assembly” and spreading “cult propaganda”. A Christian leader from Shandong, who also asked not to be named, said members of his church had been holding choir practice when a dozen police arrived at their place of worship, “some carrying guns”. “They forced us into a corner and made us squat while they were searching the room,” the pastor said. “They didn’t show us any kind of warrant and accused us of illegal assembly and cult activity.” Twenty-two Christians were detained during the police operation and two remain in custody accused of involvement in “evil” religious activity.
A preacher from Yunnan said police harassment had “intensified considerably” since May and a Beijing-based preacher said Christians in northern China faced similar scrutiny. A Christian leader from Guangdong said police there were labelling some churches as cults “without investigation”.