Four of the church’s leaders were also arrested in one of the largest operations against this network of house churches.
by Ye Jiajia
It was all in a day’s work. On June 23, local government officials launched a joint operation, separately arriving at each meeting venue of True Love Church, a part of the Sola Fide network of house churches, to seal off the church and arrest the church’s leaders.
About 10 personnel from the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau and Public Security Bureau of Zhangdian district, in Zibo city in the eastern province of Shandong, stormed into the Sola Fide True Love church’s main venue, Century Hall, and chased away the believers on the grounds that “the church was unlicensed and their gatherings were illegal.” The officials also demanded that believers’ personal information and cellphone numbers be registered. That day, two police officers stood guard at the entrance of the building. Meanwhile, the leader of the church was taken away.
At the same time, 30 personnel were dispatched to the meeting venue of Sanquan Hall in Zhangdian district where they blocked off all the entrances but allowed people to enter—though prohibiting anyone from leaving. Then they forcibly took photos and videos of the believers. Believers’ personal information was also registered. Shortly afterward, barricade tape was placed over the church. The church leader, who rushed to the scene upon hearing the news, was detained.
And the officials still weren’t done. Police also confiscated the meeting venue’s donation box.
According to a believer, when the police raided the meeting venue, they didn’t see the church’s leader, so they ordered the landlord to call and trick the leader into rushing to the meeting venue. The leader was later arrested and detained. The landlord was also taken away by the police and fined 200 RMB (about $30).
Since believers at the other five meeting venues received advance information, they quickly evacuated before police arrived.
Prior to the 10 meeting venues being sealed off, the landlord of the church’s meeting venue of Heping Hall was threatened by the police and ordered not to rent out property for use as church venues. On June 12, the church was forced to move overnight. Despite coming under attack by the government, the faith of believers remains undiminished. They told Bitter Winter that even if they have to divide into groups to hold gatherings, they will still adhere to the purity of their faith and will never join the government-sanctioned Three-Self Church.
According to a believer from the Century Hall, 11 Sola Fide church venues are currently under surveillance. Believers’ cellphones are also frequently monitored.
As for this concentrated raid, as one of the believers reported to Bitter Winter, an officer from the local police station said that since this year is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, control over and suppression of religion is more severe than ever. “[Religious belief] is being strictly investigated throughout the country. This is a concentrated operation,” he said.