Concern is growing for three church leaders in China currently detained in prison.
Pastor Lian Changnian, his son Pastor Lian Xuliang and co-worker Ms Fu Juan have been held over allegations of fraud and 'promoting an evil cult' since August 2022.
Family members have said they are concerned for their wellbeing as they have not been informed what has happened to them.
The church leaders have been denied access to legal representation on the grounds that they are suspected of “endangering national security”.
Kiri Kankhwende from persecution watchdog Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) explaied to Premier that the detainees are being held in “Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location”.
"This means the government can hold them without charges for a very long time, cutting them off from their families, friends and community," Kankhwende said.
The church leaders are part of an unregistered church denomination known as Xi’an Church of Abundance, which was officially banned by the authorities two days after its leaders had been taken by police.
In China, all churches have to be registered with the government to ensure they are legally sanctioned and under the supervision of the religious affairs bureau.
Many churches are either denied registration or choose not to register due to concerns over governmental control such as submitting to surveillance or pledging allegiance to the communist party.
Kankhwende said this makes unregistered churches vulnerable: "The Chinese government do this to have grounds to arrest them really. They haven't done anything wrong, they are simply practising their faith."
Extreme charges against church leaders are becoming increasingly common in China. Since March 2021, the Chinese authorities have detained at least 24 unregistered Protestant church leaders and workers on suspicion of fraud, including 17 from two churches in the single city of Linfen in Shanxi Province. As of today, 17 remain in pre-trial detention.
CSW’s founder and president, Mervyn Thomas said: “It is alarming to see such a large number of pastors, preachers and church staff members detained and jailed by the Chinese government using coercive means to encourage false fraud charges against them. We renew our calls on the Chinese government to stop the targeting of religious communities for practising their religion, and to release all house church leaders and members who have been detained or jailed on spurious charges.
“China must guarantee detainees access to legal counsel of their choice and end the practice of RSDL, which has been recognised by the UN as a form of forced disappearance. We also call on the international community to maintain intense scrutiny on the situation of human rights and freedom of religion or belief in China, raising awareness of the government's severe persecution against unregistered religious groups.”