Chinese authorities in the central Henan province have detained a Christian pastor from Taiwan for leading other believers in singing a worship song, an activity that officials had deemed as illegal.
On April 15, Pastor Xu Rongzhang was detained for singing "Jesus Loves You" with a group of Christians in Zhengzhou, Henan province. He was released on the same day but the authorities did not return his identification and permit to travel to mainland China until two days after, China Aid reports.
According to the Henan officials, singing "Jesus Loves You" is considered an illegal religious activity. The police also warned the pastor against gathering more than 10 people at a time for services.
A report released by Freedom House a few weeks ago revealed that there are at least 100 million individuals who face "high" or "very high" levels of persecution from the Communist Party in China. The party has launched an intensified crackdown on religious groups in a bid to stem the growth of faith in the country, The Christian Post relays.
Based on the Freedom House report, groups that face "very high" levels of persecution include Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners, and Uighur Muslims. The report also notes that Christians are being prohibited from celebrating Christmas together.
The Communist Party, on the other hand, has denied accusations that it is persecuting religious minorities. However, Freedom House said the religious restrictions in China have intensified since President Xi Jinping took office in November 2012.
Chinese authorities have reportedly arrested religious leaders and shuttered the so-called underground churches. The government has also implemented laws that seek to control religious practices, and believers have surprisingly resisted these changes.
President Xi's government has recently been trying to reach out to religious leaders in a bid to restore ties with the church. However, China Aid and other persecution watchdog groups say the move is just for show and that a partnership between the Communist Party and the Vatican could spell even worse persecution for the country's Christians.