Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan have made another raid on the Early Rain Covenant Church in the provincial capital, Chengdu, RFA has learned.
Seven church members and 12 children were taken away by police following a raid on a study session run by the church at around 10.30 a.m. local time on Wednesday.
All 19 were taken to the local police station for questioning, church member Joseph Pan told RFA in an interview on Thursday.
"Police from the Yongningjie police station in Wenjiang district took a group of children of church members to the police station, where they held them in the absence of their parents," Pan said.
"These actions on the part of the police were in serious contravention of the Chinese constitution," he said.
Chinese law requires the parents of minors to be present for police to detain them.
"In raiding and persecuting house churches and Protestant believers, the police and other municipal departments have plummeted to a new moral low," he said.
The U.S.-based Christian rights group ChinaAid reported that 16 of the 19 detainees were released on Wednesday evening at around 9.00 p.m. local time.
The remaining three stayed in detention, with no reason given to their families.
"Police are supposed to have a guardian present if they want to detain minors, because these are children," Pan said.
"But the Chengdu police are willing to cross that basic humanitarian line and persecute Christians in order to get credit from higher up," he said.
China breaks own laws
ChinaAid president Bob Fu called on the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to end the persecution of house churches.
"Several minors and teachers of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu were arbitrarily detained by police, just because they are Christians who had met to talk and study together," Fu said.
"This is a clear violation of China's own constitution, and of the principle of religious freedom stipulated by international law, and enshrined in rights covenants and treaties," he said.
He called on the Chengdu authorities to ensure that Christians have the freedom to practice their religion.
A litany of abuses
Earlier this year, an annual report from the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) found that the CCP had "taken unprecedented steps to extend repression" in 2020.
It detailed a litany of abuses, including "abuses of the freedoms of religion and expression."
In June 2020, the State Department's annual religious freedom report found that while China's constitution promises citizens freedom of religious belief, it limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities” and does not define “normal.”
"The government continued to exercise control over religion and restrict the activities and personal freedom of religious adherents that it perceived as threatening state or CCP interests," the report said, citing religious groups and rights groups.
The government continued a campaign of religious assimilation, to bring all religious doctrine and practice in line with CCP doctrine, adopting a formal five-year plan on Jan. 7, 2020, the report said.
"Officials across the country shut down religious venues, including some that were affiliated with the authorized patriotic religious associations, and placed surveillance cameras in houses of worship as a condition of allowing these venues to continue operating," it said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.