SHANGHAI, China (AP) – Chinese police on Wednesday raided a bible school run by an underground Protestant church, detaining 36 people amid a nationwide crackdown on Christians worshipping outside Communist Party control, an overseas support group said.
About 50 officers armed with electric cattle prods and backed by more than 10 police vehicles surrounded the school in the eastern province of Anhui, according to the Texas-based China Aid Association. Those inside, including students, teachers and leaders of the underground church, were taken away in police vans, the group said.
The school’s owner, Chu Huaiting, was later arrested at his home, it said. It identified Chu as vice-president of the Chinese House Church Alliance, which it said groups about 300,000 worshippers in unofficial congregations.
The school also taught sewing to help students support themselves, and completed blankets were confiscated in the raid along with thousands of copies of religious literature, the association said.
A female officer who answered the phone at the police department in the town of Huaibei where the school was located said she had not heard of the reported raid. She refused to give her name.
The China Aid Association said most of the Church Alliance’s leaders have been either questioned or detained in recent months, adding to similar reports from other groups.
The reported crackdown follows the adoption of new rules on religious organizations that critics say are being used to persecute groups deemed troublesome by authorities.
China allows worship only in the official Three Self Patriotic Movement, set up following the expulsion of foreign missionaries and church leaders after the 1949 communist revolution. The party retains final say on the group’s finances, leadership and doctrinal issues, and severely restricts religious education, especially among young people.
A similar organization controls the Catholic church, with defiant priests and parishioners subject to similar harassment.
Millions of other Protestants worship in unregistered groups, often called house churches because they meet in private homes to avoid detection. Those groups have in past been tolerated to various degrees in different parts of China, with some even operating seminaries and printing houses.
Other sects have adopted unorthodox beliefs, and infighting and competition for adherents have sometimes resulted in violence. On Monday, 17 members of the Three Ranks of Servants church went on trial Monday on charges of killing of 20 members of a rival group, Eastern Lightning.