after security forces raided Christmas meetings and beated at least one pastor, church sources said.
The US-based China Aid Association (CAA), which has close ties with house churches, said the problems began Christmas Day, December 25, when "200 police officers and officials from [the] Religious Affairs Bureau with 17 police vehicles raided a house church during its Christmas celebration."
Hundreds of people reportedly gathered for the meeting in a rented commercial facility at downtown Ma Na Si County in China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region, CAA said.
A dozen leaders were detained while private properties were confiscated, including a 80 Bibles as well as a rented minivan and another car, the church piano, a video camera, and even 230 pieces of new towels, CAA claimed.
"The police also confiscated all the Christmas food before they left," while no receipts were given for the properties," the group quoted church sources as saying.
Police reportedly presented a search warrant saying the church meeting was an "illegal religious gathering," under Chinese law.
While 7 arrested leaders were released after paying fines and undergoing fingerprints, 5 other church officials were believed to be in custody Wednesday, December 28. CAA identified the detained group as pastor Guo Xianyao, 54, Ms. Lu Jianzhen ,47, Ms. Wu Haifang, 28, Ms. Wang Ximei,54, and Ms. Zhou Bin, 50,.
"There is an eyewitness account of Pastor Guo Xianyao was being beaten by the police," CAA added. "They are currently detained at Ma Na Si County Detention Center," the group said in a statement to BosNewsLife.
CAA said it also learned that police raided another house church meeting around Christmas Eve, in Korla City of Xinjiang province. The 100 believers were allegedly forced to stop the meeting and directed to go a government sanctioned church meeting.
However "the church leader told our CAA contact that they will continue their worship weekly, but somewhere else."
The Christmas raids were the latest in a series of reported attacks against house church pastors and unofficial churches in the Communist nation. CAA said house church pastors Ms. Miao Fengming and Mr. Liu Haibo were detained for 24 hours December 13 in Zhaqi County in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region on charges of "leading illegal religious gatherings."
Elsewhere in China, in Gushi county of Henan province and Suqian City of Jiangsu province the houses of pastors Yang Li and Shi Enhao were raided this month. They were not at home at the time of the raid, but police has demanded that relatives hand over the two pastors, CAA said.
The organization said it also learned that pressure is mounting on Christian businessman, Tong Qimiao, who made international headlines by launching a court case against local authorities who he said tortured him in September for links with a house church.
Authorities in Xinjiang province on December 15 have demanded to pay a fine of $2,000 for "illegal business practices," CAA claimed.
In addition 48 Catholic priests from Shanxi province are still awaiting a response from authorities after they were reportedly beaten by 30 unidentified gangsters in Tianjin city where they were sent by their parish to negotiate to return a catholic church property with the deputy mayor of Tianjin city.
Seven priests were reportedly wounded and one Catholic is still in hospital, CAA said. "CAA condemns the arrest of these innocent church leaders and urges the Chinese authority to release them immediately. How can people have any faith on the Chinese government claim of religious freedom when peaceful Christmas celebrations were stopped and innocent citizens of faith were arbitrarily arrested ?", said CAA President Bob Fu.
China’s government has strongly denied reports of human rights abuses and says that Christians are free to practice their faith within the official churches. However several human rights groups, including Open Doors, have said that most of China’s estimated 80 million Christians worship in ‘underground’ house churches. (With BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos and reports from China).