Chinese Pastor Wang Yi and over 100 of his congregation were arrested by law enforcement officials earlier this month, raising more concerns about the communist government's religious crackdown.
According to a Morning Star News report, security forces raided the 800-member "unofficial" Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, Sichuan Province. They took Pastor Wang Yi and his wife Jiang Rong into custody and arrested several church leaders on charges of "inciting subversion of state power" and for operating without registering with the authorities.
CNN reports that the intimidation of "unofficial" churches is commonplace for the communist government, which has also been cracking down on Uyghur Muslims.
Yaqiu Wang, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch, told CNN, "Everyone who supports religious freedom should stand with Wang Yi and speak out against the Chinese government's repression of religion."
"Under President Xi, the government has further tightened control over Christianity in its broad efforts to 'Sinicize' religion or 'adopt Chinese characteristics' — in other words, to ensure that religious groups support the government and the Communist Party," he said. "The shutdown of a Protestant church in Chengdu epitomizes the Xi Jinping government's relentless assault on religious freedom in China."
United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback reacted to the arrests on Twitter. "Distressing reports about another raid on Early Rain Covenant Church in #China," he wrote. "We're deeply concerned abt the govt's crackdown on house churches. We call on China to release leaders/congregants & allow members of unregistered churches to exercise their #ReligiousFreedom rights."
U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom echoed Ambassador Brownback’s comments.
"USCIRF is extremely concerned by reports that on Sunday, December 9, Chinese authorities arrested Pastor Wang Yi and detained more than 100 members of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu," they wrote in a statement. "These actions, in addition to the continued systematic repression of Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners, continue a pattern of escalating violations of religious freedom and other human rights under President Xi Jinping. USCIRF strongly condemns these actions by Chinese authorities and calls for the immediate release of Pastor Wang and all of his fellow church members."
China has denied any sort of abuse of practicing Christians, Muslims, or other religious communities.
"There is no arbitrary detention or lack of freedom of religion and belief," a representative told the U.N. in August.
Pastor Wang and his wife face up to five years in prison for the charges issued by Chinese authorities. Their eleven-year-old son is reportedly staying with Wang’s mother as the trial progresses. Jiang Rong has not been seen since her arrest.
The Christians right group Open Doors USA ranks China’s persecution level "High," saying that "While the distinction between government-registered and unregistered churches used to be a major factor in whether or not they were persecuted, this is no longer the case. All Christians are slandered." They added: "Spouses are sometimes forced to divorce their Christian partners, and some children are taken from their Christian parents. Public baptisms are impossible, and events such as weddings and burials involving known Christians are denied by imams and lamas."