Chinese police interrogate 13 Christians over house church gatherings

Police in Guangdong province, China, interrupted a house church service on Nov. 5 and questioned 13 Christian worshippers whom they accused of organizing religious gatherings at unapproved sites.

(REUTERS / Alex Lee / Files)A Chinese national flag flutters on the Pearl River near a construction site in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, in this March 27, 2014 file photo.

The Sunday morning worship service of Qincaodi Church earlier this month was interrupted when police officers and religious affairs bureau personnel barged in and claimed that the churchgoers were conducting illegal religious services. The authorities seized Bibles and other items from inside the small house church and took 13 worshippers to the Xincheng Police Station to be interrogated, China Aid has learned.

The Christians were not allowed to leave the police station until officers had finished encoding their information and completed the interrogation. Zhai Lili, the woman who had provided the venue for the house church service, was given an administrative detention sentence and is still in police custody.

In a separate situation last month, the pastor of the largest house church in Guiyang, Guizhou, sued local government departments over the alleged violation of his religious freedom. Huoshi Church leader Li Guozhi, who was sentenced to jail for two-and-a-half years for allegedly "divulging state secrets," claimed that he had been wrongly fined after he defended a church's hard drive, China Aid said in a separate report.

Li and another pastor named Su Tianfu were fined 7 million yuan ($1,020,200), the same amount that authorities said was the church's "illegal income." However, the two church pastors claimed that there was no basis for the penalty because the money was voluntarily given by members to the church and not to them.

When the pastors' request to contest the case was denied, Li filed a lawsuit against the Guiyang Municipal Ethnic and Religious Committee and the Nanming District Religious Affairs Bureau. He maintained that neither of them had violated any religious liberty laws, based on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Pastor Su also filed a separate lawsuit against the local government departments but the Baiyun District Court informed them that their complaint had to be modified. After the suit had been amended, the case was finally filed by the judge.