Police in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan detained at least eight people in an Easter Sunday raid on the homes of Early Rain Covenant Church members.
Police raided an online meeting of the church in a simultaneous operation targeting church deacons, ministers, volunteers and regular members in their homes Sichuan’s provincial capital Chengdu on Sunday.
A church member surnamed Zhang said the group was in the midst of an online service of worship when the raid happened.
“We haven’t met in person since the raid of Dec. 9, 2018, and also because of the epidemic,” Zhang told RFA. “We have been holding our services online.”
“The brothers and sisters of our church were taken away from their homes,” she said. “Several people I knew were taken to the police station, where they took statements from them, then released.”
“[Police] told them not to meet in the name of the Early Rain Covenant Church, nor should they take part in their bible study program or other activities,” she said.
The church had been holding an online meeting to avoid gathering in public because of the coronavirus pandemic, a church member surnamed Song said.
“Everyone was meeting using computer equipment from their homes,” Song said. “The two people I know about were taken away at around eight or nine in the morning of Easter Sunday.”
“One of them was a pastor, and the other was a deputy deacon,” he said.
Song said that while some people were taken to the police station for questioning and released, others remain under investigation.
“It seems that the police knew about this meeting from very early on,” Song said. “They have been following church members for about a week now.”
Christians across China have been taking to online video conferencing apps to continue meeting amid the coronavirus epidemic.
A Protestant church member surnamed Li in the southern province of Guangdong said the authorities sometimes succeed in blocking such gatherings.
“Most people are now gathering online,” Li said. “There’s not much official interference in these online gatherings because of the epidemic.”
“But some live webcasts have been taken offline, or the [meeting code] gets blocked,” he said.