Missing Christian house church leaders believed to be in Zhejiang police custody

Fourteen Christian house church leaders who disappeared in the coastal province of Zhejiang in China on Jan. 13 are believed to be in the custody of government security agents in an undisclosed location.

(REUTERS / Lang Lang)A local resident rides a bicycle past a church in Xiaoshan, a commercial suburb of Hangzhou, the capital of China's east Zhejiang province December 21, 2006.

Commenting on the disappearance of the 14 Christian house church leaders last month, China Aid president Bob Fu called out the Chinese authorities for its alleged lack of regard for people's freedom of religion. He also called on authorities to immediately disclose the location of the missing believers to their respective families and churches.

"This massive, enforced disappearance of 14 peaceful church leaders shows the Communist Party has no regard to rule of law and its citizens' religious freedom rights," said Fu. "The Chinese government should be absolutely held accountable for this incident and immediately disclose the whereabouts to the families and their churches."

While there is no word yet on the charges levied against the missing Christian leaders, China Aid noted that believers in Zhejiang have been facing harsh persecution from Chinese officials in the last few years. The province has made headlines several times over the cross demolition campaign of the government and its installation of surveillance cameras to monitor Christians' activities.

Meanwhile, in the province of Shanxi, Christians feared an increased religious crackdown after authorities demolished the Golden Lampstand Church in Linfen last month. This was the second demolition in the area in less than a month, The Guardian reported.

Witnesses said construction workers used explosives to destroy the large church. They also reportedly destroyed the remaining structures using diggers and jackhammers.

In December, authorities in the neighboring province of Shaanxi demolished a Catholic church which has stood for 20 years.

Fu suggested that the consecutive incidents might show a pattern of the action that Chinese authorities could take against independent house churches. He also said it could be a "prelude" to the stricter policies on religion that were set to be implemented this month.