Local authorities in China’s Henan province reportedly destroyed a Christian church building last month, beating parishioners who tried to stop the demolition and detaining 40, the group China Aid says.
“The church was completely razed, and a church member likened the scene to the Japanese invasion of China during World War II,” China Aid said.
Parishioners tried to stop the demolition but many suffered beatings as a result, and were “pushed to the ground,” the report stated. Forty people were detained, although no one has yet been formally arrested.
The government had reportedly deemed the church an “illegal structure” and ordered it removed. Church property, as well as that of parishioners and construction workers, was confiscated. The Chinese Communist Party also claimed that the church had failed to pay a “road usage fee” that villagers wanted imposed.
The church’s pastor had previously tried to discuss the matter with officials and was detained for “false charges of assaulting the police station, limiting the freedom of others, and attacking a village representative.” After the attack, he is still in detention but has not yet been formally arrested.
Persecution of Christians in China varies by province, but Henan has seen an uptick in recent years.
In April 2016 Li Jiangong, a pastor in Zhumadian, another city of Henan province, lost his wife when the couple tried to save their church from being bulldozed in a government-ordered destruction. He “barely escaped” death, according to the most recent annual report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
And in Zhejiang province, more than 1,500 churches have been desecrated or demolished. Churches in Zhejiang have been ordered to stop displaying crosses, and Christians there have been detained.
Overall, the situation of religious freedom in China has deteriorated even more in recent years, USCIRF has noted in its 2017 annual report, as the country’s leader Xi Jingping has “further consolidated power” and worked to promote the “sinicization” of religion.
Religious leaders and human rights activists have reportedly been harassed and detained, and churches, especially Christian house churches, have been targeted for destruction or vandalism.