Some members of the persecuted Early Rain Covenant Church in China were reportedly able to worship publicly for the first time on Sunday in democratically ruled Taiwan after communist authorities shut down their congregation in China as part of Beijing’s widespread crackdown on ethnoreligious minorities across the Asian country.
A family from the persecuted congregation, once home to hundreds of worshippers, joined the much smaller Reformed Presbyterian Xinan Church in Taiwan after fleeing alleged threats to their safety and pressure to renounce their faith in China.
Beijing only allows government-sanctioned churches to operate on Chinese soil. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Chinese authorities in early December 2018 detained more than 100 members of the prominent Early Rain church, which had not been approved by Beijing
The Associated Press (AP) describes the Early Rain congregation as a “thorn” on the side of the communist Chinese government.
Early Rain’s pastor Wang Yi, who remains detained, has been critical of [Chinese Communist Party leader] Xi and the party and has made a point of holding a prayer service on June 4 each year to commemorate the 1989 bloody crackdown on democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, an anniversary that China’s government has sought to wipe from memory.
Xi doubles as the all-powerful chairman of the inherently atheist Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
In April 2019, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repudiated Beijing’s repression of religious freedom, saying Muslims and Christians in China are facing persecution of “historic proportions.”
AP notes that “in contrast, Taiwan has long taken a hands-off approach to religion, making it a place where Christianity and other religion.”
Members of the Early Rain church have reportedly been under massive surveillance since the arrests in December. Chinese authorities threatened the safety of members who failed to report to the police via social media, Liao Qiang, a 49-year-old former member of the Early Rain church who fled China with five family members last week, told AP.
“That’s when I knew it was no longer safe for us here, and that my children were most in danger,” Qiang said.
The news outlet notes that Chinse government officials did not respond to request for comment.
Qiang told AP that China attempted to force him to renounce his religion, but he refused.
“If our elders decided to break up the church, then I can accept it, but it’s not up to you to say it’s evil or illegal,” he claimed to have told the Chinse authorities.
AP points out that “Liao and his family hope to stay in Taiwan while they seek asylum in the United States, but with a 15-day tourist visa, their future is unclear.”
The U.S. Department of State (DOS), in its latest report on human rights in China, noted that the Xi regime continues with its campaign to forcibly “sinicize” [make more Chinese] the country’s ethnic and religious minorities, particularly the predominantly Muslim Uighurs. Some Uighurs who identify as Christian have also faced abuse under Xi.
This year, the U.S. government accused China of forcing up to three million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities into “concentration camps.”
Consistent with the U.S. government findings, AP reports:
Beijing has carried out a widespread crackdown on all religious institutions in recent years, including bulldozing churches and mosques, barring Tibetan children from Buddhist religious studies and allegedly incarcerating more than a million members of Islamic ethnic minorities in what are termed “re-education centers.”
Chinese President and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping has ordered that all religions must “Sinicize” to rid them of foreign influences.
Echoing some non-governmental organizations that monitor the persecution of Christians like Open Doors, the U.S. government has deemed China to be one of the world’s worst abusers of religious rights.