Police raided a church in Sichuan province, China, detaining 17 Christians, including the pastor and his wife, prior to a memorial prayer session.
Dozens of officers stormed the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu on Monday 4 June, reportedly to prevent a service marking the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square shootings. Police said the church was not approved or registered and had no right to organise religious activities.
Up to 200 Christians, including children, had been detained in an earlier raid at the church on 12 May, prior a memorial for the 10th anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake which killed 87,600 people. The church had been a centre for aid for earthquake victims.
The US State Department said in a statement following the May raid: “We are deeply concerned by the Chinese government’s reported harassment of the Early Rain Covenant Church.” It added that the US government joined members in mourning the victims of the disaster.
The church is one of the most prominent “house churches” in China, with around 700 Christians meeting in a converted office space each Sunday. In 2009, the authorities attempted to clampdown on its services, but Pastor Wang Yi, a former human rights lawyer, appealed eviction charges, causing them to be withdrawn.
A church member said it was the first time the church had been raided on the day of the Tiananmen anniversary itself.