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China Aid releases 2015 Annual Report on Chinese Government Persecution

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

China Aid
By Rachel Ritchie

(Midland, Texas—May 18, 2016) Today, China Aid released its 2015 Annual Report of Religious and Human Rights Persecution in China, which indicates that religious persecution and human rights abuse by the Chinese government against its citizens has risen 4.74 percent since 2014 based on six specific categories of persecution.

All six categories, which include the total number of persecution cases, the number of religious practitioners persecuted, the number of citizens detained, the number of citizens sentenced, the number of severe abuse cases and the number of individuals in severe abuses cases, increased between 6.15 and 174.65 percent. The category with the largest increase was the number of cases of verbal, mental and physical abuse, including torture, which increased from 71 in 2014 to 192 in 2015.

In 2015, China Aid documented 634 cases of persecution in which 19,426 religious practitioners were persecuted, representing an 8.62 percent increase from 2014’s 17,884 religious practitioners persecuted.

A number of factors led to the increases, including a widespread, barbaric round up of China’s human rights legal professional, activists and family members in July 2015.

The heightened level of persecution can also be attributed to the continuation of a cross demolition campaign in Zhejiang province. Many of the individuals summoned, detained, arrested, placed under residential surveillance or sentenced in 2015 were involved in protesting the cross demolition campaign or defending the campaign’s victims.

Although there has been an escalation of persecution in China, religious communities are increasingly utilizing the rule of law to defend their rights in administrative proceedings and exposing ongoing abuse and the denial of religious freedom and related human rights via social media.

To view the full report, including statistics and data analysis, click here.

*Please note, China Aid predominately receives reports of abuse from Christian communities in China, and the report and related data predominately reflects persecution against Christians.

2015 Annual Report

Chinese Government Persecution of
Christians and Churches in China
January–December 2015


I. Introduction

II. Summary and Analysis of Religious and Human Rights Persecution in China

    i. A brief summary of persecution of religious practitioners
    ii. Christians in Zhejiang province face continued forced cross demolitions
    iii. The CPC expands persecution of urban house churches throughout China
    iv. The CPC persecutes rural house churches
    v. The CPC advances its campaign to “Sinicize” Christianity

III. Statistics and Schematic Analysis of Religious Persecution and Human Rights Abuses in China

IV. Conclusion: The Refining Fire of Escalating Persecution Strengthens the Faith of China’s Christians

V. Appendix

I. Introduction

In 2015, the deterioration of religious freedom and human rights in China continued at an alarming rate, while the erosion of the rule of law was the worst it’s been since the chaotic 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution. President Xi Jinping’s administration, in its third year in power, carried out an unprecedented crackdown on religious leaders, human rights defenders, lawyers, dissidents and civil society actors.

As reported in last year’s annual report, Xi began purging high-ranking political and military figures following the Communist Party (CPC) 18th Central Committee’s Fourth Plenary Session in 2014, and new victims last year included Ling Jihua, a former member of the Political Bureau and Director of the General Office of the CPC, and two vice-chairmen of the Central Military Commission. His anti-corruption campaign targeted provincial and ministerial-level leadership and owners of state-owned enterprises for investigation. These actions point to instability and internal dissent within the Xi Administration, now in its third year. To maintain unity outside the party, the CPC intensified its crackdown on religious practitioners, human rights activists and lawyers.

Furthermore, the first significant decline in decades of China’s stock market created a staggering gap between rich and poor. Overproduction in the steel, iron, construction, energy and real estate sectors produced surpluses and a large number of manufacturers went out of business. As foreign investors withdrew from China, foreign trade shrank significantly, resulting in job losses for many people. The value of the Chinese currency, the Yuan, dropped rapidly, and stock market volatility was high. Local government departments were unable to pay when their debts came due because of decreased tax revenues and other sources of income, and many were unable to make their payrolls. Economic growth, which relies on huge government investment, has stalled.

Meanwhile, the privileged class accumulated more wealth, triggering a clash of interests between the elite and the common people. Due to the lack of rule of law, ordinary citizens had no legal means to defend their own interests, leading to millions of people petitioning government agencies for redress. Those attempts were viewed by local government departments as a challenge to CPC rule and they responded by making it impossible for petitioners to resolve their problems by appealing to authorities.

Sixty-eight years of totalitarian rule in China has earned the CPC deep-seated animosity and irreconcilable social conflicts. Instead of reflecting on the fundamental causes of these problems, the Xi Administration relies on draconian political measures to rule the country. In the harshest crackdown since the crushing of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student-led protests, victims of the current regime come from every social class, as authorities sought to eradicate political rivals, dissidents, intellectuals and human rights defenders and lawyers. Some of the more prominent of these cases were Gao Yu, an elderly journalist falsely charged with “divulging state secrets” and currently serving a seven-year prison sentence; human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who was tried for tweeting seven messages critical of the CPC on Twitter; human rights defender Jia Lingmin, who instructed citizens on their legal rights and was given a heavy sentence; as well as political dissidents Guo Feixiong, Liu Yuandong, Tang Jingling, Yuan Xinting and Wang Qingying and others who were given heavy sentences. Most notably, on July 9-10, the CPC took various legal measures against an estimated 350 human rights lawyers and activists in 23 provinces and cities across the country, and arrested dozens of them on the charge of “instigating the subversion of political power.” Those arrested included Zhou Shifeng, Wang Yu, Wang Quanzhang, Li Heping, Zhao Wei, Li Shuyun, Wu Gan, Bao Longjun, Liu Sixin, Xie Yuandong, Xie Yanyi, Huang Liqun, Xie Yang, Ge Hongguo, Li Chunfu and Hu Shigen. The CPC also closed three law firms and barred a large number of lawyers and human rights activists and their family members from traveling outside China. The nationwide crackdown demonstrated the Xi Administration’s willingness to forego rule of law in order to maintain control of the nation and was widely reported by the attention of international media.

On July 1, 2015, Xi signed the National Security Law into effect, putting political, economic, cultural, social, and religious regulations under the domain of national security and effectively empowering the Chinese government to perpetrate human rights violations. China also passed a controversial counter-terrorism law and drafted laws on cyber-security and the management of non-profit organizations, all of which threaten civil and political rights and provide a legal foundation for human rights abuses.

At a conference of the United Front Work Department on May 18-20, 2015, Xi gave a speech on religion in China in which he said, “Management of religion is in essence management of the masses. The Party’s policies on religious belief and freedom ought to be fully implemented, religious affairs managed according to the law … and religion actively guided to adapt to a socialist society.” He also stressed the “need to adhere to Chinese characteristics, improve the level of rule of law when managing religion, hold a dialectical view of religion’s social effects, bring the function of religious adherents into full play and guide religion to make it serve the purpose of promoting economic development, social harmony, cultural prosperity, ethnic unity and the unification of China.” The United Front Work Department and the National Religious Affairs Bureau held multiple work conferences on religion, including seminars on Christianity and Catholicism.

In 2015, all government departments intensified their suppression of so-called “cults” and house churches, the most severe of which were the moves against Christianity in Zhejiang province, where central and local government departments destroyed approximately 90 percent of the province’s church crosses and demolished numerous churches. Throughout this campaign, dozens of church leaders were arrested or sentenced, and three lawyers, including prominent human rights lawyer Zhang Kai, were taken into police custody for their opposition to the demolitions.

As the cross demolition campaign swept across Zhejiang, government departments that manage religious affairs launched a series of campaigns targeting churches and underscoring the government’s intent to interfere with regular church operations and to bring about a Sinicization of Christianity.

Persecution in 2015 was most intense in the provinces and autonomous regions of Zhejiang, Guangdong, Guizhou, Guangxi, Sichuan, Xinjiang and Tibet as the government forcibly shut down house churches, detained large numbers of pastors, church leaders and Christians, and confiscated church property. Schools were forbidden to engage in any religious activities or celebrate religious holidays, and authorities even closed down numerous summer camps and Sunday schools organized by churches and warned schools not to participate in religious activities or celebrate religious holidays. At colleges and universities, students and faculty were required to fill out questionnaires to report their religious beliefs.

In summary, as part of the Xi Administration’s tightened control over society, the regime targeted religious leaders, political dissidents, human rights lawyers and activists, and NGOs for persecution. Human rights and the rule of law deteriorated to the point of bringing China back to an era of political terror. Religious persecution, especially of house church Christians, was the most severe it has ever been.

II. Summary and Analysis of Religious Persecution and Human Rights Abuse in China
In 2015, government persecution of practitioners of numerous religions in China continued to escalate. Because China Aid’s mission is to monitor China’s Christian communities, the information and data in this report focus on persecution against Christians. In comparing the data in the six categories tracked by China Aid, namely, the total number of persecution cases, the number of religious practitioners persecuted, the number of citizens detained and sentenced, the number of severe abuse cases, and the number of people in severe abuse cases, the total was 4.74 percent higher in 2015 than in 2014. Looking at the statistics from earlier China Aid annual reports shows a trend of increased persecution over the past nine years with an average an annual increase of 101.42 percent in the totals of the six categories.

i. A brief summary of persecution of religious practitioners
The continued escalation in both the scale and intensity of religious persecution in 2015 surpassed that of 2014. The Chinese government’s persecution of its own government-sanctioned Three-Self Church continued to rival abuse not seen since the Cultural Revolution, most prominently in the widespread forced demolition of churches and crosses throughout Zhejiang province and a number of other provinces. Persecution of the house church movement also continued to intensify, with both urban and rural house churches coming under scrutiny and forced to join the Three-Self Church. In 2015, the Chinese government continued a campaign similar to the 1998 crackdown on Falun Gong to persecute so-called “cults” among certain sects of Christianity. The Chinese government also continued to carry out a policy of Sinicizing Christianity, attempting to make the core tenets of Christianity compatible with the core values of “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

ii. Christians in Zhejiang province face continued forced cross demolitions
In 2015, China Aid gathered reports on the demolition of churches and crosses throughout Zhejiang province and the subsequent persecution of pastors, church leaders and church members.

According to information provided by Christian leaders in Zhejiang that China Aid was able to independently verify, by the end of 2015, more than 20 churches had been forcibly demolished, 1,300 crosses removed, more than 500 Christians taken into police custody, at least 130 Christians physically injured, more than 60 Christians administratively or criminally detained, and at least 28 pastors and Christians arrested or charged with a crime. The actual scope of persecution may be even wider than reflected by these statistics. Some church leaders estimate that at least 1,500 crosses were forcibly removed, 30 churches demolished, mostly in rural areas, and the government imposed measures, including detention, on at least 1,000 Christians who protested or tried to prevent the destruction of crosses or churches.

Zhejiang authorities continued to use the “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” campaign, launched in 2014 ostensibly to clean up “illegal structures,” to provide the legal cover to target Christians for persecution. On May 5, the Zhejiang Provincial Committee for Ethnic and Religious Affairs and the Zhejiang Provincial Department for Housing and Urban and Rural Construction released for public input a draft of the Zhejiang Provincial Codes for Religious Buildings, which require all church crosses to be “attached to the front facade of the main religious building,” in essence barring the placement of crosses atop church buildings, as has been the practice of Chinese churches for centuries. The building code gives officials the authority to order changes—including the removal and demolition of crosses—to Protestant and Catholic buildings and interfere with the way church buildings are used. Local Christians saw this as discrimination and a violation of their property rights, and a large number of pastors and church members publicly condemned the government’s actions, triggering the province-wide crackdown on Christians. Some of the more prominent cases are summarized herewith.

When Huang Yizi, the pastor of Fengwo Church in the Zhejiang city of Wenzhou, stood trial on March 24, 2015, for organizing a protest against cross demolitions, more than 500 Christians from the cities of Wenzhou, Jinhua, Shaoxing, Ningbo, Zhoushan and Hangzhou gathered outside the courthouse in a show of support. Police responded by blocking off the street in front of the courthouse, and only six family members and church members were allowed to attend the trial, where Huang was sentenced to a one-year prison term. Huang was released from prison on August 1 after serving his full term, but he was placed under house arrest on Sept. 24, by the Ouhai branch of the Wenzhou Municipal Public Security Bureau for persisting in defending the church’s rights.

Eight Christians from Wenzhou’s Sanjiang Church, including church elder Guo Yunhua and Zhao Rendi, a parish lay leader, were convicted on March 25, 2015, of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order” and “illegal occupation of farmland” for meeting in their church to worship, sing hymns and pray when more than 1,000 armed police came to forcibly demolish the church building. Zhao’s sentence of a three-year prison term was the heaviest, but he was released with a four-year reprieve. The others, who were sentenced to prison terms ranging from several months to a year, were also released on reprieve. They likely had been coerced to plead guilty in exchange for the reprieves.

On June 8, 2015, the Wenling city government began a five-day operation to demolish Yanxia Christian Church, a Three-Self Church that had spent 10 million Yuan (U.S. $1.6 million) on its just-finished church building that had yet to be put into use. Church leaders had reportedly been pressured by the government to agree to the demolition. The authorities said that because the building was an “illegal structure” the demolition was not forced.

On July 26, 2015, the local public security bureau in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, criminally detained eight church leaders and Christians on, including Pastors Bao Guohua and Xing Wenxiang, Pastor Bao’s son, seminary student and evangelist Bao Chenxing, and five other church leaders. They were charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” “embezzlement,” “illegal business operations,” “concealing and destroying accounting documents, accounting books, or financial statements,” and “gathering a crowd to disturb public order.” Their church hired 11 lawyers to defend them, but each was reportedly dismissed by the religious affairs bureau, which also barred the lawyers from meeting with their clients.

In the harshest attack on Christians in Wenzhou since the cross demolitions began in 2014, Wenzhou police in late August responded to the growing opposition to the cross demolitions by taking into custody as many as 20 rights defense lawyers, pastors and elders across the city. More than 10 police scaled church walls on Aug. 25 to apprehend human rights lawyer Zhang Kai and his assistants Liu Peng and Fang Xiangui, who had provided legal counsel to more than 100 churches targeted by the cross demolition campaign. They were taken to an undisclosed location and placed under house arrest. Such extra-judicial detention arrangements in secret locations are also known as being held in a “black jail.”

As part of the same crackdown, Wenzhou police detained multiple church leaders and evangelists in the Wenzhou area, including, Wang Yunxian, Zhou Aiping, Wei Wenhai, Zhou Jian, Cheng Congping, Huang Xiaoyuan, Zhang Zhi, most of whom were held in “black jails.” On Sept. 8, Pastor Zhang Chongzhu of Pingyang County was taken into police custody. Police denied all visitation requests from the detainees’ family members and from their lawyers. Some of the lawyers received dismissal notices from their clients, who were believed to have acted under coercion. At the end of 2015, Wenzhou authorities released church leaders Kang Xiaoyou, Wang Yunxian, Huang Yizi, Zhang Zhi, Wei Wenhai, Cheng Congping and Zhou Aiping; evangelists Zhou Jian, Huang Xiaoyuan, Chen Chaohua; and lawyers Fang Xiangui and Liu Peng. Others released in 2016 include Pastors Yan Xiaojie and Zhang Chongzhu.

Christians throughout Zhejiang protested cross demolitions by congregating in front of government offices or churches and displaying crosses and signs. In a rare victory, hundreds of Christians from Dituan Church in Wenzhou gathered in front of their church on Aug. 10, holding up small red crosses and banners that read, “Immediately stop illegal actions” and “Guard the dignity of the Constitution; Defend freedom of religion.” They also chanted slogans such as “Abide by the law of this country,” “Oppose forced demolitions,” and “Freedom of Religion,” and sang hymns and prayed. When government officials arrived to carry out the threatened cross demolition, they were outnumbered and fled the scene. These protests elicited global support of the cause of defending the rights of China’s Christians.

Even the Chinese government’s own Christian organizations called for an end to the ongoing church persecution. The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Conference released a statement on July 5 saying the cross demolitions were not conducive to the establishment of a harmonious society and caused Catholics and clergy to express public resentment. On July 10, the Zhejiang Provincial China Christian Council, one of the government’s two approved Protestant organizations, published an open letter to the Zhejiang Provincial Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau calling on it to respect China’s Constitution and laws, which guarantee religious freedom, and to stop the cross demolition campaign. Gu Yuese, former chairman of the Zhejiang Provincial China Christian Council, had earlier visited the Zhejiang Provincial Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau and phoned the agency multiple times, asking that it cease demolishing crosses, but to no avail. Christians throughout Zhejiang made similar requests, but the government persisted in its actions, which included the following cases.

On July 22, authorities tore down the wall of Shuangcun Church in Wenzhou’s Longwan District, entered the church courtyard, and demolished the cross, which church members had re-erected after it was removed in June 2014. In a vain attempt to prevent the cross from being destroyed, protesters tied themselves to it.

On July 28, government officials beat 12 Christians from Taihu Church in Pingyang, Wenzhou, as they tried to protect their church’s cross. Two elderly Christians were seriously injured.

On Aug. 10, several hundred Christians from Wenzhou’s Yanpan Church gathered in front of their church to protest the demolition of its cross. As government personnel negotiated with them, Christians from Daguang Church joined the protesters.

In the evening of Dec. 28, officials removed the cross atop Xialing Church in Wenzhou. Christians who heard of the incident went to the church to pray and refused to give in. The next morning, they re-erected the cross, but authorities removed it again shortly afterward. The church had been fighting the threatened cross demolition for two years, publishing newsletters and hiring lawyers to defend its rights.

The province-wide cross demolitions even spilled over into other normal church activity.

After the death of Pastor Gao Jianguo, who was appointed by the Singapore-based OMF International to his post at Huayuanxiang Church, Wenzhou Christians wearing white T-shirts [Editor’s Note: White is the Chinese color of mourning.] and holding up red crosses gathered outside the funeral home on Aug. 11, singing hymns and chanting “Defend freedom of religion; Oppose forced cross demolitions.” Photos and video of the large crowd went viral on the Internet and, because of the domestic impact and international news coverage, the Lucheng District Public Security Bureau took Huayuanxiang Church director Pastor Huang Chongqu into police custody at 3 a.m. on Aug. 12.

When Zhu Weifang, a government-appointed Catholic bishop who had joined 20 priests in holding up a sign that read “Defend the dignity of our faith; oppose forced cross demolitions,” in front of government buildings, was ordained on July 24, he was publicly criticized at the ceremony.

As the government’s officially sanctioned Three-Self churches joined the protests against the cross demolitions, some government appointed clergy were also arrested, most notably Three-Self pastors Gu Yuese and Bao Guohua. These unexpected developments further attracted worldwide attention.

iii. The CPC expands persecution of urban house churches throughout China

In 2015, the CPC continued its crackdown on unregistered churches by persecuting house churches and house church Christians, with the harshest persecution inflicted on those in China’s south, southwest, and northwest.

Rapid metropolitan growth across China has resulted in ever-larger numbers of house churches responding to the needs of hundreds of millions of new urban residents who are increasingly disenchanted with the CPC’s ideology and turning to religious faith in ever-greater numbers. In Guangdong province, at least 1,000 small churches or meeting sites have emerged in the past three years. Likewise, the number of house churches in Beijing has increased by at least 100 new churches. The Chinese government, which has always feared the spontaneous assembly of people that it cannot control, views this rapid growth of urban house churches throughout China with alarm and regards religious organizations as the most difficult to control. Therefore, the government has intensified its suppression of fast growing urban house churches by 1) forcibly shutting down and banning house churches and their meeting sites; 2) requiring them to disband, then apply for official registration and join the Three-Self Church; 3) exerting pressure through city inspectors, neighborhood committees and the police to force landlords to terminate leases with house churches; 4) taking pastors and other church leaders into custody for public security or criminal offenses, and raiding and confiscating church property; and 5) other means including subpoenas, fines, intimidation and cutting off water and electricity.

Shouwang Church in Beijing, which has been a target of official scrutiny since 2008, is the most prominent example of the Chinese government’s persecution of urban house churches. For several years, the church held outdoor worship services, but unrelenting persecution forced them to stop. In 2015, only a few Shouwang Church members occasionally gathered to worship outdoors. On March 22, police took Shouwang Church members Liu Ruiling and Guo Haiying into custody after they attempted to worship together. They were each sentenced to 10 days of administrative detention for “disturbing public order.” Similarly, on Oct. 25 police took some other church members into custody for participating in religious activities together, later charging Zeng Miao, Huang Danyi, Guan Shanyue and Sun Huibo of “gathering a crowd to disturb public order” and sentencing them to 10 days of administrative detention. Shouwang Church members now meet in small groups in church members’ homes. A few of their ministries, such as evangelistic ministry and Sunday school, have been suspended, and others are only available online. Some church members have moved to other parts of the world, joined other house churches or are studying in seminaries abroad. Officials continue to monitor Shouwang Church and control its activities.

In the second half of 2015, authorities at Beijing institutes of higher education and some other work units investigated the religious beliefs of faculty, staff and students, focusing on whether any were part of a house church, specifically Shouwang Church.

Another large Beijing congregation, Zion Church led by Pastor Jin Mingri, has been under constant government pressure to disband and its members encouraged to join Three-Self churches. Plainclothes police officers often attended the church’s events, and CPC officers and religious affairs officials ordered undercover informants to collect information on every church member. Church members’ employers have been encouraged to pressure the Christians to stop attending Zion church. On several occasions, Pastor Jin Mingri was barred from traveling outside China and ordered not to give interviews.

Thirteen Christians from Holy Love Fellowship, a house church in Beijing, were criminally detained after holding a worship service. Following their release, police involuntarily committed one of them, Zhang Wenhe, to a psychiatric hospital for 20 months. His family was not allowed to bring him home until Nov.18, 2015. During that time, the police also committed Zhang’s son to a psychiatric hospital, where he was held for three months.

Holy Love Fellowship church elder Hu Shigen vanished on July 10, and his family had no idea of his whereabouts until six months later, when they received formal notification from the Tianjin Municipal Public Security Bureau of his arrest. He had been held at the Tianjin Municipal Detention Center No. 1 and was charged with “subverting state power.”

Sichuan province’s Autumn Rain Church, one of China’s most well-known urban house churches, has continued to be the focus of government scrutiny. Police in the city of Chengdu summoned Pastor Wang Yi and several church leaders for questioning on multiple occasions related to the church’s opposition to government forced abortions and its practice of handing out anti-abortion literature on the streets. In the second half of 2015, police often showed up at church events to monitor the activities. On sensitive dates, such as the anniversary of the June 4 crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement, or on holidays, such as Christmas, authorities barred the church from holding religious activities.

The banning of Huoshi Church, the largest house church in the city of Guiyang, Guizhou province, illustrates the methods employed by the CPC regime. Several years of intensifying harassment and persecution culminated in December 2015 with a notice prominently posted by the Religious Affairs Bureau outside Huoshi Church, identifying it as an unregistered, non-religious organization. It said that the building “is not a religious site because [the church members] established it without official approval. Li Guozhi [referred to in this report by his pseudonym, Yang Hua], Su Tianfu and others who are in charge of the church are not religious clergymen whose information is on file.” It urged people not to attend the “illegal religious activities” of Huoshi Church.

The church, founded in 2009, had always sought to be open and transparent about its activities. It openly leased office space for its services and reported every major church activity to the government’s religious affairs and national security agencies. Huoshi Church’s troubles began when its multiple meeting sites could no longer accommodate the church’s rapid growth, prompting church leadership to purchase a larger building. Since China does not recognize churches other than the official Three-Self Church, the purchase could only be made in the names of three private individuals. When the church held the opening ceremony of its newly purchased church building on Nov. 8, 2014, hundreds of policemen and approximately 200 police and emergency vehicles surrounded the building under the direction of the provincial secretary of the Politics and Law Commission and reportedly with the backing of a standing committee member of the provincial CPC. Thereafter, the government church leaders came under constant government pressure to “convert” to a Three-Self church. Other government pressure also intensified. Officials from the national security and religious affairs departments often came to the church to question its members. Huoshi Church pastors were forbidden to travel outside China. Moreover, Guiyang’s local government departments, such as the City Planning Bureau and City Management Bureau, fined the church, accused it of “illegally changing the function” of the property, and used that as the basis for ordering it to stop holding all services. The government has also used other methods to restrict Huoshi Church’s activities, including cutting off water and electricity to an auditorium the church had leased for a Christmas party and disrupting two large-scale outdoor baptism ceremonies by mobilizing hundreds of police and other security agents to the river site.

On July 28, police detained church deaconess Zhang Xiuhong, who managed the church’s finances, and her husband, Chen Zukai, and searched their home. Chen was released the following day, but Zhang was criminally detained on the charge of “illegal business operations.” The police confiscated accounting ledgers and froze the church’s bank accounts, which included a mortgage payment of 640,000 Yuan (U.S. $98,960). Nevertheless, the church members continued to hold services at the location and donated money so that the church could make its mortgage payments on time.

In November 2015, the government gave the church two choices: leave their current location or join the Three-Self church. The church refused to do either.

A confidential Dec. 3 document issued by the Guiyang Municipal Command and Control Center for Dealing with Huoshi Church and endorsed by the Guiyang Municipal Office of Maintaining Social Stability was leaked in early December. It said, “The work of dealing with Huoshi Church in accordance with the law is a political task and must be regarded as of great importance. The principal leaders [of this government operation] must personally manage and carefully organize and bring to completion the various tasks, in accordance with the unified arrangements of the municipal authorities.” The document said that a list of Huoshi Church Christians would be sent to their employers, and each employer was to verify information about the individual church member and do their part to “maintain stability” by pressuring the church members to do the government’s bidding.

On Dec. 9, the Guiyang Municipal Civil Affairs Bureau and the Nanming District Civil Affairs Bureau dispatched 300 policemen and law enforcement officials to simultaneously raid and seal off Huoshi Church’s three meeting sites. More than 200 church members were forbidden to leave their homes, and Pastor Yang Hua was criminally detained. On the same day, a church member was also taken into police custody for “making provocative remarks” in a WeChat group. Police took Yu Lei, a non-Christian who had attended Huoshi Church services, into custody for reportedly leaking the confidential document detailing the government’s plans for Huoshi Church. The Guiyang Municipal Civil Affairs Bureau publicly declared Huoshi Church a non-registered organization that planned social activities without authorization from the government and must, therefore, be banned. A statement by the Nanming District Religious Affairs Bureau echoed that declaration, saying Huoshi Church violated the State Council’s Regulations on Religious Affairs by establishing a religious venue without authorization, and must, therefore, be shut down.

On Dec.14, police took Pastor Su Tianfu from his home for “disturbing social order.” Although he was released two days later, authorities explicitly said that he was facing arrest for “divulging state secrets.”

Another Huoshi Church pastor, Yang Hua, was administratively sentenced to 10 days’ detention. When his wife arrived at the detention center to pick him on Dec. 20, she saw four people putting him into a van without a license plate. His head was covered with a black hood. She learned he had been criminally detained for “illegal possession of state secrets.” Twelve policemen later searched his home and confiscated his computer, flash drive and other items.

That same day, two lawyers hired by Yang, including Chen Jiangang, were barred from meeting with him.

The methods the government used to persecute Huoshi Church have also been applied to religious organizations the government calls “cults.” In many cases, the CPC charged church members with cult involvement in order to incarcerate them.

On May 22, 2015, public security officials closed Guangfu House Church in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, after the Baiyun District Religious Affairs Bureau ordered the church to stop holding services. More than 100 government personnel, including religious affairs officials and public security agents, confiscated church property, including computers, stereo systems and books. Several church members were questioned for several hours, including church leader Ma Chao, and accused of gathering illegally. On May 24, authorities sealed the church’s entrance. On May 31, more than 20 Christians held a worship service outside the sealed entrance of the church’s rented apartment space, but were dispersed by 20 officials from the religious affairs bureau and street management office, including a CPC secretary. Ma, who owns the property in the Baiyun district, filed a complaint against the religious affairs bureau; the Baiyun District Court dismissed the complaint on June 3. When church members met for a prayer meeting at a rented facility on Aug. 15, twelve police officers and security guard broke up the meeting.

Another house church that met in the same building as the property owned by Ma was also forced by authorities stop holding services. On Dec. 26, another Guangzhou house church was raided by police and forced to stop meeting.

Across Guangdong province, at least 60 house churches were closed down, ranking it just behind Zhejiang province as experiencing the highest rate of religious persecution in 2015, based on the statistics gathered by China Aid. Guangdong’s provincial government cited various reasons to close down Christian organizations, including multiple churches and schools founded by people from Hong Kong and other countries.

In one such incident, Hong Kong pastor Wu Xiaohe, who is part of Heavenly Bread Ministries, was summoned for questioning by the Futian District Religious Affairs Bureau in Shenzhen on July 1 and accused of violating China’s laws and regulations on religious activities by recruiting Christian leaders from mainland China via the Internet to go to Hong Kong for training. He was put on notice to stop recruiting mainland Chinese Christians for training in Hong Kong.

Some of the more notable cases from other provinces included a raid of a five-day Bible training session held by the 71st Street Christian Church in Luoyang, Henan province, for more than 70 house church leaders from Henan and Shanxi province. In the afternoon of the second day of the Oct. 12-16 training, more than 30 public security officers, domestic security agents, police and religious affairs bureau officials raided the church, declared the event an illegal religious meeting, and ordered the training stopped. Pastors Liang Jing, Li Jia’en and Li Jiangtao were sentenced to 15 days in administrative detention, as were Taiwanese Pastor Shen Zhenguo and his wife, Li Jianghua, both New Zealand passport holders. Authorities continued to keep them in custody when their 15 days of administrative detention ended, and they were not released until Oct. 29.

Also, in Guangxi province on April 24, a court sentenced Cheng Jie, Huang Qiurui and Li Jiatao, three Christians associated with the Hualin Foreign Language Experimental Kindergarten, to two years in prison and fined each of them 5,000 Yuan (U.S. $806) for “illegal business operations” after authorities discovered the kindergarten’s curriculum incorporated textbooks on moral character that were written by Christians. Fang Bin, a non-Christian who printed the textbooks, was sentenced to one year, nine months in prison and fined 4,000 Yuan (U.S. $644). Before the judge delivered the verdict, officials barred Qin Yongpei, the lawyer hired by the defendants and the director of Baijuming Law Firm in Guangxi, from entering the courtroom. Earlier, at the Feb. 9 trial of Cheng, Huang and Li, their lawyers were dismissed and escorted out of the courtroom. When three new lawyers from Guangxi attempted to visit the defendants at the Liuzhou Detention Center on Feb. 26, their request was denied.

The kindergarten was closed down on July 17 by order of the Yufeng District Court, which also imposed a fine of 800,000 Yuan (U.S. $122,000). Eighty SWAT officers were sent to search the building, disperse students, and seize supplies and assets, valued at 1 million Yuan (U.S. $160,000). The case was reported in the national media, including by Zhongxin Net and the Jinghua Times, which described Hualin Kindergarten as using illegal religious textbooks to force religious beliefs upon the children. Kindergarten director Sun Haiping, now living in the United States, said the textbooks taught lessons in character and virtue but had no religious content.

Urban house churches in Yunnan, Xinjiang, Shandong, Hubei, Heilongjiang and many other provinces also experienced severe harassment. In these provinces, the CPC intensified its prohibition of house church-owned schools, Sunday schools, retreats and Vacation Bible Schools.

At Yingcai College in Shandong province, six students—Li Binbin, Zhang Yaqi, Ni Wangjie, Chen Huiyun, Chen Ping and Jia Rong—organized a prayer and Bible study group that met daily in a quiet spot under the stairs of a classroom building for an hour. Someone took cellphone photos of them praying and reported them to the police, who went to the school to question them. As it happened, the Shandong Provincial Department of Education had just recently issued a document ordering the expulsion of any student who was found to have participated in gatherings of three or more students for religious activities. So, the six students were facing expulsion from college.

In addition to the cases detailed above, the CPC also barred China’s church leaders from attending international Bible trainings and Christian conferences. Likewise, religious affairs management agencies and police across the country reinforced a ban on clergy from other countries taking part in religious activities in China. Several foreign pastors engaged in ministry in China were administratively detained and then deported.

In short, the CPC’s persecution and suppression of house churches continued to escalate in 2015 as authorities continued implementing a plan initiated in 2011 to thoroughly investigate and then “wipe out house churches in 10 years.” Specific measures taken include the illegalization and closure of house churches, and pressuring them to become Three-Self churches; the detention, conviction and sentencing of church leaders on criminal charges; and a strict ban on proselytizing students.

iv. The CPC persecutes rural house churches
Compared with 2014, persecution of China’s rural house churches also escalated, with the government using criminal charges, including allegations of cult involvement, to detain and arrest church pastors and evangelists. Religious affairs management agencies and public security bureaus increased their scrutiny of rural house churches. In China’s southwest and northwest, local police frequently raided house church services, and the number of church assets confiscated and church leaders placed in administrative detention increased dramatically. Religious persecution was exceptionally serious in the provinces of Shandong, Jiangsu, Anhui, Zhejiang, Guangdong, Fujian, Yunnan, Guizhou, and Sichuan, and in the Xinjiang autonomous region.

Incidences of rural house church persecution throughout 2015 include the following cases.

The year opened with a Jan. 1 raid by 12 police and security officials on the Guoshulin House Church in Beijing’s Shunyi District where 30 Christians were gathered for a Sunday evening service. Several Christians were taken to a police station for questioning. They were ordered to immediately stop holding services in their church building and to leave the area. The police confiscated Bibles and hymnals and deleted files from the church’s computer

On, Jan. 7, Director Yuan of the Pingxiang Municipal Religious Affairs Bureau in Jiangxi province led police to break into the home of Li Zhiwen at 7:40 a.m. They ordered Li, a member of Jesus Church, to stop holding Bible study meetings in his home, saying that engaging in religious activities outside of a church building was illegal.

On Jan. 10 in the Xinjiang autonomous region, Party Secretary Zhu of the Hami Municipal Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau led agents from the Hami Municipal Public Security Bureau, the Domestic Security Protection Squad and the Liyuan police station broke up a gathering at the Candlelight Church. More than 20 officers carried out the raid, 10 of whom were armed with machine guns. They surrounded the church and broke into the meeting room. Zhu showed the Christians a notice that said they were “engaging in an illegal religious activity” and ordered the officers to interrogate the people gathered there, take down their names, ID numbers, residential addresses, phone numbers, occupations, work units, family backgrounds, how they were converted and other information. After photographing the Christians, the officials confiscated books and other printed materials, audio equipment, an electric organ, projectors and other church possessions, and sealed the building. In addition, Miao Yuexi, a church leader, was summoned multiple times for questioning and fined 50,000 Yuan (U.S. $7,716).

In mid-January, the Public Security Bureau in Aksu, Xinjiang, found two Christians, Ren Demei and Zhao Qi, to have broken the law when they sang Christian hymns in their homes. They were placed under administrative detention for not having the qualifications to teach or preach and for singing songs at a site that was not registered for religious activity.

On Jan. 20, police raided a service at Langzhong Church in Sichuan province, taking into police custody 23 of the 70 Christians gathered there. Fourteen were released the next morning, while the remaining nine people, including several pastors, were sentenced to 10-15 days of administrative detention. This was the second raid of the Langzhong Church in 30 days. In the earlier December 2014 raid, public security officials confiscated church property and placed three Christians, including Ma Yuying and Li Chengxi, in administrative detention for 5-12 days.

From March 2-4 in Xinjiang, around 50 officers from the local public security bureau and religious affairs bureau interrupted a series of church services attended by more than 90 church members from Wujiaqu Local Church, the Church of the 105th Regiment of the Construction Corps and Christians from the surrounding area. These services were held at the homes of Ren Yuxing and Dai Wanying. Officers took more than 10 of the attendees into custody during the raids and released them the next day. Additionally, officers confiscated several dozen Bibles and hymnals. On March 9, Ren Yuxing, Dai Wanying, Tao Wenju and Wei Xiangfu were placed under administrative detention. On March 10, police raided a church service of 10 people in the town of Liren, Jiangsu province. All 10 were administratively for holding an “illegal gathering.” They were Wang Denglan, Zhu Zhanmei, Tang Aiqiao, Fu Chenghua, Cao Yumei, Wang Jinglian, Zhu Qiaorong, Zhuang Chonglan, Zhuang Ronghua, and Zhuang Chongmei.

On April 29, 2015, in Heilongjiang province, a dozen officers from the Yichun Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau, Domestic Security Protection Squad and the police station raided the Bethany Church. They said the church members were attending “illegal meetings” and served them a notice to immediately stop all religious activities.

Also in April, the Pingyuan County People’s Court in Shandong province convicted five members of the Discipleship Church of “organizing and using cult organizations to undermine law enforcement.” The defendants were sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to five years

On May 10, 2015, a house church in Aksu, Xinjiang, was raided by public security personnel on charges of “illegally gathering.” At the time, 31 Christians were taken away by the authorities, along with some church property, and the officials closed down the church.

Twelve church leaders were administratively detained on May 24 after dozens of armed police surrounded a house church in Bijie, Guizhou province, and raided the Sunday worship service. Other than the senior citizens, many of the 80 worshippers were interrogated at the local police station. All of the church’s belongings were confiscated. Twice, Chinese mafia attacked lawyers hired by the church, and the local public security bureau refused to investigate. After the 12 churches leaders had served their administrative detention sentences, police criminally detained eight of them for “holding illegal gatherings, organizing cult activities, and violating Article 300 of the Constitution.” They were then separated and transferred to various other detention centers.

On May 27, two Christians, Zhao Chengliang and Cheng Hongpeng, were convicted of being part of a cult in Heze, Shandong, and were sentenced to four and three years in prison, respectively. A third Christian was also convicted but was not given a prison sentence.

On July 11, religious affairs officials and police shut down a two-day summer camp organized by a house church in Shaanxi province and with more than 100 children in attendance.

On July 16, the Dawukou District People’s Court in Shizuishan, Ningxia province, held an open sentencing hearing of 148 leaders from the Discipleship Church, who had been apprehended by the police in November 2014. Eleven were given prison sentences.

In early August, a Protestant church in the Ali District of Tibet was outlawed by local authorities for “meeting illegally.”

On Aug. 16, officials from the religious affairs bureau and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement in Hubei province broke up a meeting of nearly 40 people at the Jinshuixia Church. According to Pastor Li Yongguang, the religious affairs bureau threatened to destroy the church and have its members arrested if it refused to register with the government.

On Aug. 18, the front door of a house church in Shantou, Guangdong province, that the Chenghai District Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau had declared an “illegal meeting” was sealed off by officials from the religious affairs and public security bureaus. Ms. Guo, a church leader, said that government officials served a notice to her at her home. Before closing the church down, the public security bureau had repeatedly pressured the congregation to join the Three-Self Church, but the church members refused.

On Aug. 23, the religious affairs bureau, the fire department and the police raided a Sunday church service of the Zhongfu Wanmin Church in Dongguan, Guangdong province, and declared it an illegal meeting. The authorities served the church with a notice ordering it to immediately “stop illegal religious activities.” The church members refused, saying the church had been meeting for over 10 years.

Around the same time, another house church in Guangdong province, Zhongfu House Church, also received an “order to stop meeting” notice.

On Sept. 20, police in Chuzhou, Anhui province, administratively detained Pastor Lü Jiangyang of China Christ Jesus for 15 days and accused him of “spreading cult teachings” because the church had held a summer camp for children in late July. The camp was raided on July 28 by more than 100 police and religious affairs officials who said the church was holding non-government-approved religious activities and ordered it to stop all its religious activities.

House church Christians meeting in the private home of a member in Dazhou, Sichuan province, on Nov. 10 were ordered to disperse by local officials who said that it was an “illegal organization” because it had failed to register with the religious affairs bureau. They were ordered to vacate the premises, even though Christians said it was simply a gathering of friends and family. They also pointed out that the requirement to register only applied to groups with more than 50 people.

A house church Thanksgiving celebration on Nov. 18 in Yili, in the autonomous region of Xinjiang, was raided by police who took all 60 people, including two preachers from Taiwan, into custody. Later, three of them were criminally detained and held at the Yili Municipal Detention Center.

Also in Xinjiang, police raided a house church in Kashgar Prefecture on Dec. 10, and arrested Xinjiang Christian Fang Jianying. He was placed under criminal detention the following day. On Dec. 15, the authorities apprehended Chen Ai’E, another Christian.

As the above shows, throughout 2015, the CPC used law enforcement measures to intensify its persecution of rural house churches, resulting in a dramatic increase in the number of detained Christians. Persecution in the guise of accusations of cult activities became common, and pressure on house churches to either join the Three-Self Church or face closure increased.

v. The CPC advances its campaign to “Sinicize” Christianity
The CPC continued its campaign to “Sinicize” Christianity—through regulations and specific plans introduced by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the China Christian Council (CCC) and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), and the Zhejiang provincial government, in particular. These covered various aspects of church life, including the architectural style of church buildings, church management systems and the building of a theology with Chinese characteristics.

According to a report on Chinese Religion Web, an international seminar on “The Path to Sinicizing Christianity in China” was held in Beijing on Nov. 20-21, 2015. It was sponsored by the World Religion Research Institute and the Christianity Research Center, both of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the Chinese Religion Society, and the Beijing Municipal CCC and TSPM. Unlike the dozens of seminars on this subject that have been held in the previous two years, foreign religious experts were invited this time, including Professor Diane Obenchain of Fuller Theological Seminary, Rev. Wei Tixiang from Taiwan, Professors Paulos Huang and Miikka Ruokanen from Finland, and Rev. Leung Yinsing from Canada. However, the inclusion of foreign participants notwithstanding, the conference was clearly intended to promote and publicize the CPC’s policy of Sinicizing Christianity that was adopted after Xi Jinping came to power in 2013.

According to reports from government-run news agencies and from social media, the seminar focused on the “three elements of the Sinicization of Christianity,” namely, Christianity’s identification with Chinese politics, its adaptation to Chinese society, and its expression of Chinese culture. With a large number of the attendees from academia and the arts, the 2015 seminar placed a greater emphasis on Christianity’s expression in Chinese culture, using “cultural expression, adaptation and integration” to do away with the essential beliefs of Christianity.

The seminar opened with an address by Zhuo Xinping, a proponent of the Sinicization of Christianity, who said that the topic of Sinicizing Christianity is not new, as Christianity’s universality came about historically because of its ability to adapt to its locale, a process that should occur without creating a clash of civilizations or political conflicts. He said that Chinese Christianity must make a political choice and make its position known, and Chinese Christians must identify with China’s political system and reach a consensus about the Sinicization of Christianity in the 21st century.

As crosses were being demolished across Zhejiang province, the provincial government introduced a series of parallel Sinicization measures, including the “Five entries and five transformation campaign. The “five entries” refers to the addition of “laws and regulations, health care, popular science and culture, helping and supporting the poor, and building harmony” to regular church activities. The “five transformations” are “localizing religion (through adopting local architectural styles for church buildings), standardizing management, indigenizing theology (by contextualizing sermons), financial transparency and adapting Christian teachings.”

Although authorities acted in this way during the Cultural Revolution this kind of political interference in religious affairs has not been seen since China embarked on its open door policy.

The cross demolition campaign across Zhejiang province was the local government’s way of carrying out the call to “localize religion.” Local authorities felt that crosses atop Gothic-style church buildings clashed with traditional Chinese architecture. TSPM general secretary Kan Baoping, spoke approvingly of a number of church buildings that had been built by foreign missionaries in the style of Buddhist or Daoist temples, saying “Deshi Church in Shantou, Guangdong; Gangwashi Church in Beijing; Christ Church in Sanyuan, Shaanxi; Fuyin Church in Suzhou, Anhui; and Hongde Church in Shanghai all adopted traditional Chinese architectural style or the blended style of China and the West. Who would say they look like Buddhist temples rather than Christian churches?” He added, “Only when Chinese architectural style has become the dominant style of Christian churches in China can we say ‘this is Chinese Christianity,’ because the external form is an expression of internal changes in thinking and views.”

The intent of bringing activities related to healthcare, aiding the poor, and creating social harmony is to neutralize Christianity religious nature and turn churches into mere philanthropic and charity organizations. This was amply demonstrated when Christians were encouraged to donate blood as a part of their Easter celebrations in 2015, turning the core belief of Christianity—the shedding of Christ’s blood for the sins of mankind—into a blood drive opportunity.

With Buddhism and Daoism in China already successfully Sinicized, the CPC has all along sought to effect a similar and complete transformation of Christianity. Even its own directly controlled Three-Self churches have been targeted for crackdowns of CPC-perceived “problems.” The Xi Administration has raised the issue of religion to a threat to national security, and the government, therefore, will push the “Sinicization of Christianity in China” even more.

It is clear from the four points covered above—the cross demolitions in Zhejiang, the escalating persecution of urban and rural churches, and the Sinicization campaign—that 2015 was a year in which the CPC intensified its suppression of churches and Christians. Persecution of Three-Self churches and house churches alike was the worst it has been since the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution. The Chinese government’s attitude towards Christianity was clearly shown to the world in its demolition of churches and crosses across multiple locales. Detaining and sentencing church pastors, church leaders and evangelists on criminal charges were meant to intimidate believers and curb burgeoning church growth. Confiscating church property and fining Christians was an attempt to financially ruin churches, while portraying house churches as cults was intended to disrupt and sever the churches’ normal relations with the rest of society. Finally, under the guise of the campaign to Sinicize Christianity, the CPC seeks to strip Christianity of its universality and to replace the sacred principle of “Christ as the head of the church” with submission to the CPC.

The year 2015 was also a year in which believers from house churches and Three-Self churches alike fearlessly stood up to the persecution and gave no ground in their protests. They were aided by Christian legal professionals and human rights lawyers who trained house churches throughout China in to defend their rights their rights according to the law. Tens of thousands of Christians took part in hundreds of these sessions and learned how to use the law to protect their right to freedom of religion and the rights of their churches. Increasing numbers of church members filed administrative complaints against government actions, and many of them won their cases.

A coterie of Christian human rights lawyers has emerged who are putting their own freedoms on the line to provide legal defense to persecuted Christians and churches across the country. Some have even risked their lives to expose to the rest of the world these acts of official persecution of Christians in China. These teams of lawyers were involved in many of the year’s most influential religious cases, frequently laboring in the face of injustices perpetrated by the local police and courts, including at least one instance of being attacked by thugs hired by the government.

III. Statistical and Schematic Analysis of Religious Persecution and Human Rights Abuses in China
While sections I and II of this report are focused on the characteristics of persecution in China, predominately affecting house church communities, this section uses statistics and data analysis to give further information about the persecution in 2015. The Appendix (Section V) provides a sampling of the year’s religious freedom and human rights abuse cases.

Note that the data and information in this report are based on reports of persecution that China Aid collected in 2015. Though not comprehensive, these cases cover a wide range of Chinese provinces and municipalities, are diverse in nature, and represent a variety of individual backgrounds, including urban and rural house churches and Three-Self churches and their members, individual religious practitioners, college students, human rights lawyers and advocates, political dissidents and sellers of religious materials. Thus, this report reflects the status of religious freedom, though predominately for the Christian house church movement, rule of law, and human rights in China and the severity of persecution faced by Chinese citizens.

In 2015, China Aid collected information on 634 cases of persecution across the country, an increase of 10.84 percent from 2014. The 19,426 people who were persecuted represented an 8.62 percent increase from the previous year. The 3,178 people who were arrested or summoned for questioning was 6.15 percent more than in the previous year, and the 232 people sentenced to prison was 81.79 percent fewer than in 2014. Cases of verbal, mental and physical abuse, including torture, totaled 195 and involved 463 people, increases of 174.65 percent and 91.32 percent, respectively from the previous year. Across China, nearly 1,480 crosses were forcibly demolished and 85 churches were razed or ordered to close down in 2015.

Comparing the data in the above six categories—the total number of persecution cases, total number of people persecuted for their religion, number of people arrested, abused and sentenced, number of abuse cases—the overall situation can be statistically represented as being 4.74 percent worse than in 2014, 164.71 percent worse than in 2013, 267.47 percent worse than in 2012, 315.43 percent worse than in 2011, 205.98 percent worse than in 2008, 491.95 percent worse than in 2010, 580.23 percent worse than in 2009 and 709.94 percent worse than in 2008. Please see the table below for details.

(To view the full report, including statistics and data analysis, click here.)

China Aid Contacts
Rachel Ritchie, English Media Director
Cell: (432) 553-1080 | Office: 1+ (888) 889-7757 | Other: (432) 689-6985

"Bob Fu has dedicated his life to bringing freedom of religion to the Chinese people. His story is a testimony to the power of faith and an inspiration to people struggling to break free from oppression."
—Mrs. Laura Bush

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