China: CCP uses ‘fraud’ charges against house churches collecting offerings

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For decades, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has sought to dismantle Christian churches who refuse to register with the government-run Three Self Patriotic Movement. In the name of Sincization, they are recreating religion to better align with Party ideals. Christians have been targeted with repeated arrests, raids, and harrassment at the hands of authorities. The CCP ushered in a new era of persecution beginning in 2018 by charging pastors, church leaders, and other Christians with crimes of fraud.

The updated regulations became effective on February 1, 2018, further pushing underground Christian churches towards the margins of society.

According to the regulations, the collection of tithes and offerings by house churches is considered fraud; church pastors are accused of defrauding believers; tithes and offerings are considered the proceeds of fraud; church leaders are deemed as scammers; lay believers and church members are deemed to be victims of fraud.

The logic behind this approach to persecute house churches goes like this:  house churches are prohibited from being registered as legal entities, → authorities accuse house churches of being illegal groups, → authorities accuse house church leaders as illegal clergy, → authorities label house churches’ collection of offerings as fraud.   The method often applied by authorities is to mislead church members into believing that pastors deceived church members when collecting offerings, and to tell lies to some individual believers to make them believe that pastors are paying themselves a high salary, and then use such lies as evidence to fabricate fraud charges against pastors.

The 12 persecution cases listed below are exclusive reports from China Aid Association’s website from 2018 up to late July, 2023.

 

II. SUMMARY OF PERSECUTION CASES

THE KING’S WEDDING CHURCH IN ZHUHAI, GUANGDONG PROVINCE

The King’s Wedding Church was founded in 2006 and grew into a congregation that peaked at 1,500 attendees. In 2009, Pastor Wei Xiaomei and Zhang Tao (a Macau resident) purchased a 700-square-meter property on Jiuzhou Avenue in Zhuhai city with 13 million yuan (a donation made by Zhang Tao to the church), and used it as the church’s meeting space. In March and July of 2014, the church purchased two other properties on Jiuzhou Avenue with 5 million yuan (80% of the amount donated by Zhang Tao and the rest by other church members). On September 27, 2016, the religious bureau of Xiangzhou district, Zhuhai city, raided the church. Officials confiscated more than 40 computers and 300,000 yuan (~$44,310) from the church, and arrested Pastor Wei Xiaomei, her husband Li Bingxin, and Zhang Tao. Both the couple and Zhang Tao were charged with “fraud” in 2017, and released on probation in October, 2018.  In 2021, however, authorities again imposed multiple administrative penalties on this church, including confiscations, fines, and late payment fees totaling 36 million yuan (~$5,317,200). The church hired a legal team to respond to the lawsuit, and the case went through a trial and administrative reconsideration phase, followed by an administrative litigation request to the Zhuhai Intermediate People’s Court, which still has not gained any progress. On July 7, the three Christians involved in the case received an “administrative compulsion” letter serving as a reminder and request for them to pay the hefty fine or the court would enforce it.

 

EGANGQIAO CHURCH IN EZHOU, HUBEI PROVINCE

Pastor Hao Zhiwei of Egangqiao Church graduated from Zhongnan Theological Seminary in 2001. Because of her excellent preaching skills, Egangqiao Church, a Three-Self church based in Ezhou, hired her as its preacher. Sine her application for pastor ordination was denied by authorities in 2007, Egangqiao church she served invited three pastors to ordain her as a pastor in 2013 according to the tradition of house churches in China.   The church is one of the few churches in China that is independent from the state but owns a church building and a congregation of several hundred people.  The authority’s decision to demolish and relocate the church met resistance from some church members in 2018.  On July 18, 2019, the local ethnic and religious bureau issued a Notification urging Pastor Hao to “understand, support, and cooperate with the government’s administrative decision for the sake of protecting believers’ personal safety and property.”  On July 31, Pastor Hao was seized and detailed on “fraud” charge.  In August, the church was demolished.  In September, the case was transferred to the procuratorate.  Two other church leaders, Jiu Ying and Wan Yuanxiang were also arrested under the charges of “fraud” and “obstruction of government affairs.”  Per the prosecutor’s indictment paper, the congregants’ offering of 2,247,000 yuan (~$311,374) is classified as illegal gains because Pastor Hao’s ordination is considered unlawful and thus her church is not authorized by the government.

On November 23, 2021, Pastor Hao’s attorney Si Weijiang visited her at Hubei province’s Ezhou Detention Center.

On February 11, Pastor Hao was convicted of “fraud” and sentenced to eight years in prison in the first trial.  She decided to appeal.

On December 12, Ezhou City Intermediate People’s Court issued a final verdict in response to Pastor Hao’s appeal. She was sentenced to 8 years on the charge of “fraud” in the first trial. The Court decided to uphold the original verdict. Pastor Hao’s case might be the first case in China where a house church pastor was accused of fraud for preaching the gospel.

Pastor Hao Zhiwei’s husband was also a pastor but died from liver cancer in 2018.  Her two children, both underage, are in middle-school and senior high school respectively.  With only one grandparent alive who’s a paraplegic, the two children are under the care of some female church members.  Pastor Hao’s younger son (Moses) has to live by himself now.  Due to severe depression symptoms, he dropped out of school in the fall semester of 2021.

 

GOLDEN LAMPSTAND CHURCH IN LINFEN, SHANXI PROVINCE

In July 2021, the Shanxi province’s Linfen city government conducted a large-scale investigation into its community, clearly targeting Golden Lampstand Church led by Pastor Wang Xiaoguang and Preacher Yang Rongli.  Preachers associated with this church from other areas were also brought in for investigation and questioning. On August 7, 2021, Linfen police raided Golden Lampstand Church and seized nine church leaders, including Pastor Wang Xiaoguang and his wife Yang Rongli.   On September 27, seven of them, i.e. Pastor Wang Xiaoguang, Yang Rongli, Li Shuangping, Dong Yongyong, Zhao Guo’ai, Huo Zhuangping, and Wu Ling’e, were approved for arrest, and on December 27, transferred to the procuratorate for review under the charge of “fraud.”  Church leaders released on bail include Feng Junying, Chen Qinglan, Li Qin, Wang Xianfeng, and Yang Hongzhen.

By mid-July, 2022, according to a prayer letter released by Yang Kai and five others from the church, seven of the nine leaders were still in detention under the charge of “fraud,” i.e., Pastor Yang Xiaoguang and his wife Yang Rongli, Li Shuangping, Zhao Guo’ai, Dong Yongyong, Huo Zhuangping, and Wu Ling’e. Suffering hunger, denial of medical treatment, and other mistreatment in jail, they were also denied visits by their family.

On March 29, Yaodu District court held an open trial of the 12 accused church leaders on alleged “fraud”, but no information has been released to the public yet.

As a large-scale house church with a congregation of 50,000 attendants, Golden Lampstand Church received 17-million-yuan donations from believers to construct its church building.  Originally public officials at Shanxi Normal University, Wang Xiaoguang and Yang Rongli left their jobs in 1998 to serve the church full-time. Yang is a fifth-generation believer who came to faith in Christ at an early age. Wang authored a dozen of Christian books including Theology of the Cross.  The couple founded Golden Lampstand Church together in 1998 and, along with several church coworkers, grew it from a few dozens of members to a congregation of 50,000 people, which alarmed the local authorities.  Due to the church’s adherence to biblical teachings and its refusal to join the state-sanctioned church system and get registered with the government’s ethnic and religious affairs department, it has suffered ongoing government suppression and crackdowns.  Since 2004, the church underwent frequent water and electricity shutoffs.

The infamous “Linfen religious case” broke out in 2009.  On September 13, 2009, at around 3 a.m., more than 400 police officers from Fushan county raided the place of worship and the church’s Gospel Shoe Factory. They physically assaulted the believers sleeping in the dormitory, resulting in over a hundred injuries. Some of the injured lost consciousness and were rushed to the hospital for emergency treatment. The county authorities deployed bulldozers and excavators to demolish dozens of buildings. They looted and destroyed church properties, including televisions, refrigerators, vehicles, and kitchen utensils. On September 23, 2009, armed police surrounded Golden Lampstand again. Police abducted Yang Rongli and six other co-workers on their way to Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi province, to petition to the higher-level government. Relevant departments offered Yang Rongli 10 million yuan (~$1.3 million) to purchase Golden Lampstand Church, which she refused. On October 8, police raided Pastor Wang Xiaoguang’s residence. Three days later, nine church coworkers, including Wang Xiaoguang and Yang Rongli, were criminally detained. On November 2, the case was transferred to the court in a haste. On November 25, 2009, the Yaodu District People’s Court of Linfen city convicted several of them on “illegal occupation of agricultural land” and “assembling a crowd to disturb traffic order,” sentencing Pastor Wang Xiaoguang to three years and 10,000-yuan (~$1,381) fine, and his wife Yang Rongli to seven years and 30,000-yuan (~$4,144) fine. Others received their sentences as well: Yang Xuan to three and a half years plus a fine of 20,000 yuan(~$2,763); Cui Jiaxing to five and a half years plus a fine of 50,000 yuan (~$6,907); Zhang Huamei to four years.  On November 30, five other church leaders, i.e., Li Shuangping, Yang Hongzhen, Yang Caizhen, Gao Qin (alias Gao Fuqin), and Zhao Guo’ai, were sentenced to two years of reeducation through labor under the charge of “assembling a crowd to disturb traffic order”.  Subsequently, police sealed over thirty worship venues. On January 9, 2018, the church building of the Golden Lampstand Church was forcefully demolished by the local government using heavy machinery and dynamite.  The authorities also cancelled the retirement pension and medical benefits of Yang Rongli and other church leaders.

 

REN’AI REFORMED CHURCH IN GUIYANG, GUIZHOU PROVINCE

On March 16, police intruded into a hotel room in Wenzhou where several members of Guiyang Ren’ai Reformed Church and several visiting Christians from another city were studying the Bible together. The officials checked everyone’s ID and cell phone. At about 1 p.m., three local Christians (Chen Jianguo, Li Jinzhi, and Li Lin) and seven Christians from outside Guiyang metro were taken to the police station on Yan’an Road. At about 5 p.m., Ren’ai Reformed Church’s Elder Zhang Chunlei arrived at the police station to check on the status of the case, only to get detained too. At about 11 p.m., Zhang Chunlei and the three local Christians were moved somewhere else and detained incommunicado. On March 16 and 17, the seven detained Christians from outside Guiyang were put through three rounds of interrogations. On March 17, the police notified Zhang Chunlei that he would receive a 14-day administrative detention, and later they searched his home. On the afternoon of March 18, they also searched Chen Jianguo’s home. On March 28, Elder Zhang was put in criminal detention. On the morning of April 21, his wife Yang Aiqing, his son, and his brother were taken away by 7 or 8 unidentified agents. In the afternoon, his son and brother were released, but his wife was criminally summoned on suspicion of “committing fraud.” On April 26, two female church members, namely Li Lin and Li Jinzhi, were called in for questioning by the police again. In the afternoon of April 27, Chen Jianguo and attorney Sui Muqing went to the Nanming District People’s Court of Guiyang to file an administrative complaint against the Yunyan District Ethnic and Religious Affairs Administration of Guiyang City and the Yunyan Branch of the Guiyang Public Security Bureau for illegal acts in the process of law enforcement, which was rejected by the Nanming District People’s Court. On May 1, Elder Zhang Chunlei was arrested for “allegedly committing fraud.” His attorney traveled to the detention center and requested to visit him four times—on June 29, June 30, July 1, and July 2— but authorities repeatedly rejected him. On July 8, three female church members were summoned by Guiyang’s Yunyan District Yanzhong Police Station for questioning. On July 21, Elder Zhang’s legal representative went to Guiyang’s Second Detention Center, requesting to visit him with required paperwork. However, the detention center received a notification on July 6, 2021, from Guiyang’s National Security Bureau ordering them to deny Elder Zhang’s lawyer’s request to visit due to national security concerns. On October 29, Zhang’s case was returned by the Yunyan District Procuratorate to the Public Security Bureau for further investigation.

The attorney representing Elder Zhang Chunlei was allowed to visit his client on the afternoon of January 5 at Guiyang Municipal Second Detention Center. Authorities previously denied many attempts for visitation since June 10, 2021. On January 27, Elder Zhang’s case was handed over to Guiyang Municipal Court. On March 31, his attorney requsted to speak with the presiding judge. However, the judge declined once again, and the attorney did not receive any official indictment paper. On June 6, the attorney visited Elder Zhang, but he still did receive the indictment paper. After having been repeatedly denied access to Guiyang Municipal People’s Intermediate Court’s case files, the attorney finally was granted access on August 8. However, he was forbidden to take photos of some case transcripts. On November 29, Guiyang Municipal People’s Intermediate Court secretly held the trial of Elder Zhang Chunlei on suspicion of “fraud” and “inciting subversion of state power.” Yang Aiqing, his wife, was prohibited from attending the trial even though she submitted her application for attending in advance. Zhang’s trial lasted over six hours, from 9:30 a.m.- 4:00 p.m.. The entrance of the court was so heavily guarded that even security staff confessed that they had never witnessed such a massive show of force. Some congregants of Ren’ai Reformed were followed or prohibited from leaving their homes. Neighborhood management personnel removed Ren’ai Reformed members waiting at the court’s entrance.

 

QINGCAODI REFORMED CHURCH IN DEYANG, SICHUAN PROVINCE

Elder Wu Jiannan and his wife, along with several other coworkers of Qingcaodi Reformed Church in Deyang, Sichuan Province, including Liu Wuyi, Liu Yongbo, Lan Enguang, retired church elder Hao Ming and his wife, were taken away by Deyang police on November 17, 2021, on suspected “fraud”.   In the morning of November 18, Hao Yan, Elder Hao Ming’s sister, was also taken away by authorities, followed by church coworker Xiang Dijun on November 19.  Elder Wu and Elder Hao were criminally detained on alleged “fraud” on November 19, and Liu Wuyi was criminally detained on November 30.  Two other church members, namely Xiang Dijun and Lin Yan, were coerced to go to Deyang Municipal Public Security Bureau to cooperate with case investigation. On December 24, 2021, Deyang’s Jinyang District People’s Procuratorate approved the arrest of Elder Wu Jiannan and Hao Ming on “fraud,” and released Liu Wuyi on bail. Elder Wu’s defense lawyer went to the detention center twice to visit his client in accordance with the law, but authorities denied his visitation request. The detention center briefly showed him the paperwork issued by the agency handling the case, but insisted that he was not allowed to visit his client because the case might involve national security and state secrets.

On May 31, the lawyer was finally granted a visit with Elder Hao Ming of Qingcaodi Church. During the visit, the attorney found Elder Hao in poor health. He suffered hematochezia for months and lost 12 kg (~26.5 lbs), which put his life in danger should his condition continue. Since the detention center was in shutdown due to COVID, Elder Hao could not leave for medical treatment. His case entered the stage for prosecution review. On August 3, Yin Zhixiu, Elder Hao’s mother, passed away. Detained in prison, he did not know of his mother’s passing nor was he allowed to say his final goodbyes. His attorney informed him of her death on August 11. Elder Hao was devastated and cried for a long time. He finally felt consoled when his lawyer told him that the church held a memorial service for his mother. In late November, the alleged “fraud” case of Elder Hao and Wu Jiannan was sent to Jinyang District Court. Since the case allegedly involves 560,000 yuan (~$82,552), the two men potentially face at least 10 years in prison.

On May 5 and May 6, Elder Wu’s wife Cui Yanqin published an open letter on Weibo to Deyang municipal government, calling on them to “please return my husband to me.”  On January 6, Elder Hao’s wife Yang Yufeng also sent out an open prayer request letter to raise concerns about her husband’s case. On January 13, Elder Hao Ming’s attorney, Zhu Shujin, met with his client in Deyang Detention Center. He reported that Elder Hao looked well, and he told Zhu that he continually refused to admit to the fabricated charge of fraud. In late April, Wu Tingmin, father of detained Elder Wu Jiannan posted an article titled “A Father’s Appeal: please release my son” on the Chinese social media Weibo.  In his public appeal, Wu Tingmin also identified as a Christian and his family a three-generation Christian household. “Today I want to speak up about the persecution and injustice my son Wu Jiannan underwent because of his Christian belief,” he wrote.

 

LINFEN COVENANT HOUSE CHURCH IN LINFEN, SHANXI PROVINCE

On August 19, at 10 p.m., a parenting event organized and attended by 70 Christians from Linfen Covenant House Church was suddenly raided by more than 100 police officers. Authorities escorted attendants away and confiscated their cell phones. Police released some of the children around 2 a.m., but kept all adults in detention. At 3 a.m., officers from the local police station searched church Preacher Han Xiaodong’s home and confiscated some books. After, they searched Preacher Li Jie’s home. On August 22, Linfen Municipal Public Security Bureau placed Li Jie, his wife Li Shanshan, and Han Xiaodong under RSDL on the alleged charge of “fraud.” On September 2, the two preachers were criminally detained on suspicion of “fraud.” In the morning of September 5, agents of the local police department contacted another member of Linfen Covenant House Church, Ms. Sun, through her employers. Authorities wanted to take her to the police station to “talk.” She rejected their request. In the afternoon, five people, including officers and community workers, knocked on her door. They came again at 7 p.m. to keep pressuring her until she agreed to go with them. On September 30, preachers Li Jie and Han Xiaodong were formally arrested on the alleged “fraud” charge. Han has three young children. After his arrest, his wife Chen Ying had to care for their children alone. Police seized another church coworker on October 28 named Wu Tingting. They reportedly detained her on suspicion of “fraud.” However, her family never received any paperwork or phone calls from authorities. In the morning of November 1, church coworker Wang Qiang went incommunicado. The next day, Linfen Municipal Public Security Bureau informed his wife, Wen Huijuan, that he had been placed in RSDL on suspicion of “fraud.” Wen received Wang’s criminal detention notice on November 9. Wang Qiang has been criminally detained and transported to the detention center after a week of designated residential surveillance. On December 14, Wang was officially arrested.

On January 12, 2023, before Chinese New Year, Linfen Covenant House Church Preacher Han Xiaodong’s wife Chen Ying wrote a letter to her imprisoned husband, encouraging him to stay strong in faith.  On February 4, the church sent out an open prayer request letter, disclosing that the cases of Preacher Li Jie, Preacher Han Xiaodong, and Wang Qiang were returned to the public security bureau by the Yaodu District Procuratorate for further investigation. On February 7 and 8, police summoned Li Shanshan, the wife of imprisoned Linfen Covenant House Church preacher Li Jie, to the police station. They threatened her for two consecutive days to “admit guilt” for the so-called accusation of fraud. Reports are unclear whether Wu Tingting, another Linfen Covenant House Church woman, was also being threatened. The church sent out an urgent prayer request letter in the early morning of February 8: “We admit to God we are all sinners, but we will never admit guilt for such a ridiculous ‘fraud’ charge.”

On March 11, their defense lawyers sent statements to various government organs, but received no meaningful feedback.  After being sent back by Yaodu District People’s Procuratorate for some additional investigation, the case was transferred to Linfen Municipal Procuratorate on March 26.   On April 13, 2023, their defense lawyers visited Linfen Municipal People’s Procuratorate to talk to the procurator, arguing that Li Jie, Han Xiaodong, and Wang Qiang could not have committed fraud.  On April 14, the procurator met with the three defense lawyers who argued that the freedom of religious belief is a basic right of citizens, and thus shall not be suppressed by abusing criminal methods.  They also pointed out the law enforcement agency’s illegal practices in this case, including residence under surveillance at a designated location, torturing suspects to extract a confession, and finding “victims” to report the case after investigated has started, etc.  On April 17, Linfen Covenant House Church and the defense lawyers issued an open statement condemning the law enforcement agency’s malpractices and demanding a public hearing on the necessity of the arrests.

Since Preacher Han Xiaodong was arrested, his wife Chen Ying had to single-handedly parent their three little children.

 

XI’AN CHURCH OF ABUNDANCE IN XI’AN, SHAANXI PROVINCE

Since July 20, 2022, the congregants of Church of Abundance received verbal summons for interviews one after another at Shilipu Police Station in Xi’an City. Some Christians’ homes were searched by the police and their lives severely disrupted. According to a subpoenaed believer, a police officer named Zhang Haibo used the congregants’ job security and their children’s education as threats, demanding them to hand over their church’s finances, to fabricate lies, and to pad the amount of offerings they have made to the church. Officer Zhang also lied to subpoenaed believers that their pastor paid himself a monthly salary of 50,000 yuan (~$7,000). He also told them that the more financial offering they claim to have made to the church, the more money they could reclaim from the church through the police, thereby seducing believers to perjure and accuse their pastor of fraud and spreading a cult. Around 4 p.m. on August 17, police officers from Shilipu Police Station forcibly searched the homes of Pastor Lian Changnian, his son Pastor Lian Xuliang, church staff member Xing Aiping, church evangelist Fu Juan, Guo Jiuju, and Zhang Jun. Police even took a nine-year-old child to police station for interrogation, reportedly traumatizing the child with intimidation. The next day around 3 p.m., the officers from Shilipu Police Station, led by officer Zhang Haibo, came again and handcuffed six church staff members, including Pastor Lian Changnian, Guo Jiuju, Pastor Lian Xuliang, Zhang Jun, Xing Aiping, and Fu Juan. They were taken to Church of Abundance to have their photos taken. After that, the Civil Affairs Bureau and the Religious Affairs Bureau announced the charges against them, i.e., illegal gathering, illegal fundraising, and illegal religious venues. In the process of taking photos, Pastor Lian’s wife Guo Jiujiu noticed a big bruise on the forehead of her son (Pastor Lian Xuliang). His eyes were bloodshot, and there was dried blood in the corner of his eyes. The face mask he was wearing also had blood streaks on it. His arms and hands were bruised and swollen. Around 11 p.m. on August 18, Xi’an Public Security Bureau’s Chanbashengtai Branch designated Pastor Lian Changnian and Pastor Lian Xuliang as suspects of “fraud” and placed each of them under “residential surveillance at a designated location” (RSDL). After 11 p.m., Xing Aiping, Guo Jiuju, and Zhang Jun were released, but the whereabouts of church evangelist Fu Juan is unknown, and her husband did not receive any official written notice of detention from authorities. On August 19, Xi’an Civil Affairs Bureau issued a notice to ban Xi’an Church of Abundance.

On January 4, Guo Guanglin, Zhang Jun, and Liu Linfei sent a prayer request letter for their imprisoned family members, revealing that police once gave their family a verbal notice that these cases involve national security and therefore attorney visitation is not allowed.  In mid-January, Pastor Lian Xuliang’s wife published an open letter on Chinese social media Weibo titled “My father-in-law and husband charged with ‘suspected fraud’”, defending her father-in-law/Pastor Lian Changnian and her husband/Pastor Lian Xuliang who had been seized and gone incommunicado for five months, and hoping to draw legal and media attention. However, Weibo removed her post almost immediately. At around midnight on February 15, Pastor Lian Changnian, Pastor Lian Xuliang, and Preacher Fu Juan were criminally detained under fraud charge and placed in a detention center. On the morning of February 22, the attorneys met with the three defendants and learned that authorities tortured all of them during RSDL.  The methods of torture they suffered include: being exposed to a chemical to cause memory loss, being denied access to a toilet for a long time, being threatened to give false testimony, being beat up, being denied proper food, being intimidated and threatened, etc. At about 9 a.m. on March 1, two plainclothes driving a civilian vehicle, who claimed to be police officers of the Shilipu Police Station in Xi’an, seized brother Wang from his workplace and took him to an unknown hotel for interrogation.  They cuffed his hands and feet to a metal chair and covered his head with a curtain. He was tied there for 24 hours and denied water and sleep.  In the meanwhile, his family heard nothing about him.  It was when his family called the police to report his missing, they were told by the police that he had been taken away by the state security agents from Chanba Public Security Bureau.  Brother Wang was not released until about 10 am on March 2.

On March 22, Pastor Lian Changnian, Pastor Lian Xuliang, and Preacher Fu Juan were approved for arrest by Xi’an’s Baqiao District People’s Procuratorate and then officially arrested on suspected “fraud.” Pastor Lian Changnian has served China Gospel Fellowship for many years. Founded in 1988 in Henan province’s Tanghe region, China Gospel Fellowship grew into a nationwide house church network with 10 million congregants.

 

TWO MAIN LEADERS OF “HEFEI YOUTH FELLOWSHIP” IN ANHUI PROVINCE SENTENCED AND FINED ON “FRAUD” CHARGE

In early 2018, Mu En and Wang Yinuo established Hefei Youth Fellowship in Anhui province’s Hefei city where universities are concentrated to cater to the spiritual needs of college students. It quickly grew to two hundred members comprised of mainly students and some young professionals.  Hefei’s national security agents summoned Wang Yinuo and asked that the Fellowship join the government-controlled Three-Self Church or get registered. He refused.

Then a gathering of the fellowship was raided on September 18, 2022, and 84 believers were arrested. Most were released after 24 hours and four were released after a week, but Wang Yinuo and Mu En were identified as leaders, criminally detained, and formally arrested.  Police restored Wang Yinuo’s deleted WeChat messages and files, including the names and amounts of church members’ donations in the pasts five years, as well as their job titles and photos.  Police also summoned some church members and compelled them to write a statement identifying themselves as fraud “victims” and claiming they had been “cheated” and persuaded to donate. Those who refused to write it were held by police.  The 240,000-yuan (~$33,442) donation was classified as “fraud” money by police.

On April 27, the two church leaders stood trial. On June 28, Hefei Youth Fellowship sent out a prayer letter disclosing that the two leaders had been convicted by a local court on “fraud”. Mu En was sentenced to three and a half years in prison and a 60,000-yuan (~$8,360) fine, and Wang Yinuo to three years and a fine of 50,000 yuan (~$6,967).

Mu En, 35, is married and has an eight-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son who live with their grandparents.  Wang Yinuo, 33, is single.   He was born and raised in Lixin county, Anhui province, and took a job with Huawei in Xi’an before he decided to move to Hefei to serve the colleges students from his hometown.  He worked for a company in Hefei before his arrest.

 

THE LIVING STONE REFORMED CHURCH IN ANHUI PROVINCE

On April 11, 2023, Pastor Wan Changchun of the Living Stone Reformed Church in Bengbu city, Anhui province, was arrested while serving in Yunnan Province under the charge of “illegal business operations.” His wife You Xiulin and several church elders and coworkers were also taken by the police for questioning.  The bank accounts of the church were closed, books were inspected, and three church coworkers were criminally detained.   Pastor Wan’s home was raided by the police on April 14.   Bengbu Public Security Bureau formally arrested Pastor Wan and the three church coworkers on May 19 alleging “fraud” charge.   Having a PhD in theology, Pastor Wan has three children ages 16, 10, and 8.  His father has been severely ill after a car accident and his mother is in poor health, too.

 

PERSECUTION OF HOUSE CHURCH EVANGELIST CHEN LIJUN IN LUANCHUAN COUNTY, HENAN PROVINCE

Public security agents in Luanchuan county, Henan province, took away local house church evangelist Chen Lijun around 9 p.m. on August 13, 2022. They arrested him simply because he purchased some Christian books online. Over 100 Christians of his church also face persecution. On August 27, Luanchuan County Public Security Bureau criminally detained Chen on suspicion of “fraud.”

 

THREE CHRISTIANS FROM GUANGDONG PROVINCE SEIZED AND CRIMINALLY DETAINED BY SICHUAN POLICE ACROSS PROVINCIAL BORDERS FOR ATTENDING AN ONLINE PRAYER MEETING

Reportedly, three members of a small Guangzhou-based house church, including a young couple, were seized and detained by Zigong Municipal Public Security Bureau across provincial borders on “suspected fraud” charge due to organizing an online prayer meeting and offering collection.   On June 12, 2023, Wen Yu, a Christian lawyer, shared on Weibo that he and another Christian lawyer surnamed Yuan representing this case had travelled to Zigong Municipal Detention Center to visit their clients, but their requests for visitation were repeatedly rejected by authorities until 6:10 pm on June 13, when they were granted permission at last.

 

THREE CHRISTIAN WOMEN (NAMELY LI BINGRONG, JIE LIHONG, AND HUANG QIUYAN) CRIMINALLY DETAINED UNDER “FRAUD” CHARGE ON THE SAME DAY IN SUINING, SICHUAN PROVINCE

Police of Suining, Sichuan province, arrested three Christian women, namely Li Bingrong, Huang Qiuyan, and Jie Lihong, on suspicion of “fraud” on May 17, 2023, and then criminally detained them on May 18.  It is speculated that since they work for banks and helped deposit and transfer donations for Christians and churches from a Christian organization, this may be why there were arrested.  As a result of ChinaAid’s report causing pressure on the local authorities, the three women were released in June.

 

III. RECOMMENDATIONS

  • ChinaAid calls on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Congressional-Executive Commission on China, and Department of State to publicly monitor and report on the continuing trend of churches and Christians falsely charged with fraud. Also, to formally submit an official letter to the Chinese government, putting forward a solemn position based on religious freedom, requesting the Chinese government to explain these cases, right the wrongs, and immediately acquit the accused church pastors and believers.
  • ChinaAid calls on churches and Christians affiliated to major international Christian organizations, such as World Council of Churches, World Evangelical Alliance, and Global Christian Solidarity, to jointly issue a statement and send a letter to the Chinese government stating that they firmly stand on the side of the pastors and members of Chinese house churches, and resolutely oppose the Chinese government’s absurd act of framing”church offerings” as fraud, and demand the Chinese government to acquit the accused church pastors and believers immediately.
  • Churches, organizations, and individuals can also submit the cases listed in this report to Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention as the rule of law has been usurped with false charges and the intentional framing of house church leaders and their congregations by Chinese authorities. — ChinaAid