Dongguan, Guangdong— Police officers raided a house church meeting in China’s southern Guangdong province on Wednesday evening, detaining 30 of the members in attendance including the pastor and an American couple with two children.
More than 20 officers broke into Zhongfu Wanmin Church approximately a half hour into their evening service on May 3. The church members attempted to take pictures of the raid, but officers confiscated all cell phones, ID cards, and bank cards.
“How could the police take away their bank cards?” a local pastor asked while recounting the events to a ChinaAid reporter. “This is a very recent [change in behavior for officers.]”
During the raid, the pastor, Li Peng, was beaten by officers for trying to take pictures. Li was detained with the 30 other members taken away from the church and interrogated overnight, but while most of the detainees were released the following morning, Li was not.
Huang Xiaorui, Li’s wife, went to the police station in the morning, but officers refused to give her information or let her visit Li.
“They didn’t let me see my husband,” Huang said. “I insisted that I was there for a justification. I wanted justice. I waited at the police station all morning, to no avail. The other brothers and sisters were released in different orders and each of them were questioned for a very long time. I myself was interrogated for more than an hour. The oldest believer they detained is a grandmother, more than 80 years old. There were also children [among the detainees.]”
Because an American couple and their two children in attendance at the meeting, authorities accused the church of “accommodating foreigners” and “illegally gathering” because the church was not a registered meeting place.
The American family was detained after police summoned them from their hotel, according to Huang.
“We never ‘accommodated’ any foreigners,” Huang said. “We live in Tangxia. A couple in our church are Americans, but they are registered as Hong Kong residents. They joined the Tangxia Church more than a decade ago, and they merely wanted to have a look at our church this Wednesday.”
Zhongfu Wanmin Church, established in 2002, has faced intense persecution from local authorities for a long time, with a spike in severity during May and June of 2016. In those two months alone, church members reported seven separate raids by authorities. During one incident, officers broke open the church’s donation box and confiscated 2,888 Yuan (U.S. $439).