Persecution watchdog Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has published an exclusive report about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on churches in China.
The briefing contains analysis from an experienced China researcher into the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on unregistered Protestant 'house' churches in China. Although the report author's identity is known to CSW, it cannot be made public due to the threat of punishments.
The report focuses on three churches that have been seen an increased crackdown since the pandemic.
It gives an account of police raids on Xingguang Church, an unregistered church in Xiamen, Fujian Province, and Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, which took place over Easter 2020.
The third case study focuses on the experiences of Xiashangtang Church, an unregistered house church based in Wuhan, the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The church is led by Pastor Huang Lei, who CSW said has a long history of providing relief and assistance to victims of disasters such as the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Pastor Huang's church raised money and gathered supplies which they hoped to donate to the government to assist with their response. But, these donations were refused because Chinese authorities deemed Xiashangtang Church an "illegal organisation."
Kiri Kankhwende from CSW told Premier Chinese officials are abusing churches under the guise of coronavirus restrictions.
"One of the things we've been concerned since the world started to go into various degrees of lockdown is that repressive regimes would use the pandemic as an excuse to crack down on communities that were already under pressure in their countries. Sadly, in many cases, including in China, that's being born out to be true. So it's important that we keep a watchful eye
"We're seeing meetings online being broken up, and people arrested, harassed, electricity cut off as the government tries to tighten the space and reduce the amount of space there is for these churches to meet together and to worship together."
Kankhwende said although the report focuses on three unregistered churches, the trend is the same for all registered and unregistered Protestant and Catholic churches in China.
"We understand that the problem is very widespread, "she said. "They are very vulnerable. As they meet in homes, as they meet online, they're being arrested, harassed and tracked. We know that the government has state of the art technology tools, and they're using this against their own citizens."
Despite the decades of persecution Christians have faced in the country, the Church has always remained resilient. Kankhwende said they always find a way around the discrimination and there's now a greater awareness that what the Government is doing is illegal.
"They're being very brave," she said. "They continue to try to find ways to meet where they can, and in some cases, people have been arrested.
"There's one particular church in the in Fujian Province, when they when the police raided the church, people started chanting "illegal", because they knew that this was against the law, and very heavy handed. So people are reacting with immense courage and immense faith. And it's really on us to stand with them and to continue to pray and to speak out on their behalf."
Listen to Premier's interview with Kiri Kankhwende here: