The Chinese communist party has ordered the Early Rain Covenant Church (ERCC) to cease all online worship services, in its latest crackdown on Christianity in the country.
In late 2018, Chinese authorities carried out a series of tightly coordinated raids on the 5,000-member Early Rain Covenant Church in the city of Chengdu, arresting more than 100 members, including Pastor Wang Yi and his wife.
The government cut the phone line to the church and Chinese police reportedly tracked down church members using the location signals from their mobile phones. Pastor Wang later received a sentence of nine years in prison for “inciting subversion” and running an illegal “business.”
China’s state-run Global Times newspaper argued at the time that Wang was not a true Christian but an agitator “brainwashed by Western values.”
Since the shuttering of their church, Early Rain members have had to resort to online streamed worship services, but now the government wants to stop those as well, the Christian Post reported Monday.
Last weekend, police brought in members of ERCC in charge of church activities and online services and demanded that they bring a halt to all activities. One of those detained was Ran Yunfei, who had been scheduled to give a testimony during a church service. Police allowed him to return home only after the service had ended.
As Breitbart News reported, on Easter Sunday, police from the Public Security Bureau raided the homes of ERCC members, arresting six church leaders for participating in an online worship service via Zoom.
“At that time I was also in the Zoom call, but there was a long period of time where I did not hear a thing,” one church member said. “I thought it’s the network connection issue at first, but I soon heard a quarrel erupt. Our co-worker Wang Jun was questioning some people, ‘Who are you to do this [to us]?’”
The Easter service included a taped sermon given by imprisoned Pastor Wang, which apparently sparked the raids. One church member, Zhang Jiangqing, said that police came to his house and threatened harsh treatment if he continues to listen to Wang’s sermons.
“Don’t participate in already banned [religious] activities anymore! Don’t listen to Pastor [Wang]’s sermons anymore! If you do this again, we will deal with it seriously and take you away!” Zhang said.
In its 2020 report released last week, the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said that religious freedom conditions in China “continued to deteriorate” in 2019.
“The Chinese government has created a high-tech surveillance state, utilizing facial recognition and artificial intelligence to monitor religious minorities,” it noted.
Commissioner Johnnie Moore said there was no doubt that China is “the world’s foremost violator of human rights and religious freedom.”
“It cannot be compared to any other country in the world not only because of its inexcusable actions, but because of the way it aids and abets similar actions by other countries all around the world,” Moore said.
USCIRF recommended that the U.S. government “intensify efforts to counter Chinese government influence operations in the United States that are designed to suppress information about or advocacy in response to violations of religious freedom in China.”