Crackdown operations targeting this banned religious movement are being carried out since May, resulting in arrests of its key leaders.
by Yao Zhangjin
The Association of Disciples, or Mentuhui, a Chinese new religious movement, was founded in 1989 and was banned by the CCP government the next year. In 1995, it was included in the list of the xie jiao. The movement has significantly downsized since its leader Ji Sanbo died in 1997, but the CCP has never stopped persecuting its followers.
Movement members from Baotou city in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region told Bitter Winter that the local police carried out an operation targeting their church between May 18 and 28, arresting nearly 100 members, including two key deacons. One of them managed to escape on May 28 but was arrested the next day because authorities monitored his cell phone.
Plainclothes police officers got inside church venues and believers’ homes in small hours, after hired workers broke open doors. During interrogations, the police told believers that being active in religious groups labeled as xie jiao is a “subversion of state power,” and those who are involved in it would be punished severely.
“A National Security Brigade officer who interrogated one of the arrested preachers told him that his child, a good pupil at school that wants to study in college, won’t be able to study or have any future because of his father’s faith,” a member of the Association of Disciples from Baotou said.
Between June and September, the Dezhou city police in the eastern province of Shandong arrested nearly 100 Association of Disciples members. Five key church leaders were charged with “using a xie jiao organization to disrupt law enforcement” and are still kept in custody or under house arrest. Most of the arrested members have police records for previous investigations into their membership in the banned movement.
A church member, who was released because of her medical condition, told Bitter Winter that the police searched her house and confiscated all her religious books. During her interrogation, the police revealed that they had surveilled her for nearly three months and obtained her phone records and collected information on all church members who had been to her house.
“Officers told us that all banned religious groups, like Falun Gong and the Association of Disciples, are subjected to severe crackdowns,” another released church member recalled. To make the arrested believers reveal information about their church, the police forced them to watch other arrested people being tortured.
In June and July, at least 35 members of the Association of Disciples were arrested in Luzhou city and Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture in the southwestern province of Sichuan after searching their homes and confiscating religious materials. A church member in his 60s was beaten with electric batons. Some other members were forced to renounce their faith to be released. The police even went to the workplaces of some church members to inquire about their faith.
The police raided three Association of Disciples meeting venues in Sichuan’s Neijiang, Ziyang, and Dazhou cities and detained their deacons.
In May, ten members of the Association of Disciples were arrested in Qujing city in the southwestern province of Yunnan. Two deacons were detained on “suspicion of organizing and using a xie jiao organization to disrupt law enforcement” who now face trials. One deacon managed to escape arrest and now lives on the run.
The CCP organizes large-scale propaganda campaigns and sets up tip-off systems to encourage the population to report banned religious movements. Three hundred twenty-nine members of the Association of Disciples were arrested last year in the northwestern province of Qinghai, also in Yunnan, Sichuan, and other provinces.
In August last year, Jingdong county officials in the prefecture-level city of Pu’er in Yunnan went door to door inquiring about residents’ religious status. At least 20 members of the Association of Disciples were arrested during this operation and had their houses raided. Most were later fined from 1,000 RMB (about $ 150) to 2,000 RMB (about $ 300).
“A woman left the Association of Disciples ten years ago, but she was cuffed to a tree and fined 1,000 RMB because she had a cross in her house,” a member of the Association of Disciples from Jingdong county recalled.
The police told the released believers to keep their cell phones on 24 hours a day and not leave the area and threatened to deprive their children of opportunities to go to colleges or become public servants if they did not give up their belief.
“The police arrest and fine people of faith, so believers started practicing their faith secretly at home,” another believer from Jingdong county lamented.
In 2019, the police arrested 18 Association of Disciples members in Sichuan’s Meishan and Leshan cities, and 16 were arrested in Liangshan prefecture, Dazhou and Nanchong cities between May and September. Four of them had to wait for their trial in detention for over a year. A 69-year-old member died about 20 days after officials harassed him at home.
“They broke into his house, searched it, and threatened to ruin his grandson’s future if the man didn’t renounce his faith,” a fellow church member recalled. “His health started deteriorating fast because of the stress. He was worried about his grandson until his death.”