Authorities Issue Eviction Orders Against Members of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, China

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Members of a choir sing during a church service ahead of Christmas in Hong Kong on December 23, 2018, during which several members of the congregation wore black in support of underground churches in mainland China. - This year, underground churches in China, especially larger establishments like the Early Rain Covenant, which has at least 500 church members, have faced increasing pressure. (Image: PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images)

In Chengdu, China, officials and community enforcers have issued eviction notices against members of the now-banned Early Rain Covenant Church — an unofficial Protestant group — amidst a continuing crackdown on religion by Chinese authorities, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported. 

On September 2, police and other community officials showed up at the Jiaoda Garden residential compound in Chengdu’s Wuhou district, where several Early Rain members reside as a community, and demanded that the group relocate. 

“A large group of people turned up claiming to be the owners and told us we weren’t welcome,” an anonymous source told RFA. 

Video footage has emerged showing an incident involving a church member, Li Yang, and officials. After officials told the group that they must relocate a minor altercation between authorities and the member of the church ensued resulting in the detention of the church member. He was reportedly detained for “interfering with law enforcement” and was released later the same day. 

RFA reported that a church member stated, “One of our brothers was negotiating with them, and was taken to the police station for questioning for obstructing law enforcement because he inquired about and asked for proof of identity from the police officers.”

A church member, surnamed Li, told RFA that “the families of several members of the group were successively evicted by a group of people organized by the police station and the community owners’ committee,” adding that “they weren’t allowed to enter, and they were asked to move out of the community.”

In addition, police from the Jinyang police station were witnessed visiting several homes of church members in the area instructing them that they had to vacate the premises within three days. 

One member of the church said that on the morning of Sept. 3, after receiving a guest at their home, police and members of the residential community’s neighborhood committee “came knocking on the door, demanding that the guest leave.”

The evictions come after police had jailed two members of the Early Rain Covenant Church following a raid on one of the church’s gatherings on Aug. 22. Several minors were reportedly detained in the raid as well. 

Church members Dai Zhichao and He Shan were sentenced to 14 days’ administrative detention following a Sunday raid by state security police and officials from the municipal religious affairs bureau. The two members were sentenced without trial as authorities in the region are empowered to hand down sentencing without a trial in such matters. 

History of suppression

This most recent attack on the church is but the latest in a string of incidents spanning years. 

On Dec. 30, 2019, Wang Yi, an Early Rain pastor, was jailed for nine years after being found guilty, in a secret trial, of “incitement to subvert state power” and of “running an illegal business.” 

At the time, the sentencing of the pastor garnered international condemnation. 

Wang, who is credited with founding the church, was apprehended by police in Chengdu on Dec. 14, 2018 along with upwards of 100 other church members. 

Members of the church who were detained following raids on Dec. 9 and 10, 2018, that were later released said that police beat them while in custody and described one detainee as being tied to a chair and deprived of food and water for 24-hours, according to a rights group that was reporting on the incident at the time.

At the time, many members of the church went into hiding fearing incarceration for their faith, The Guardian reported. 

In China, Christianity is viewed as a “dangerous foreign import” by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).  

Under general secretary Xi Jinping documents have been distributed warning against the  “infiltration of Western hostile forces” in the form of religion.

The party, which promotes atheism to its citizens, exercises tight controls over any form of religious practice or expression among its citizens.