China sees sevenfold increase in persecution against Christians

Persecution against Christians in China has increased sevenfold since 2008, according to the latest report by China Aid.

The Texas-based charity paints a damning picture of religious freedom in China as it describes the state's attempt to take control of the nation's churches.

China Aid said 90 per cent of church crosses in Zheijiang had been forcibly removedChina Aid

The Chinese government wants to replace "Christ as the head of the church with submission to the Communist Party", the report read, alleging that more Christians are harassed, beaten and tortured than ever before.

The province of Zheijang has been hit particularly hard by the crackdown, said the report. "By the end of 2015, more than 20 churches had been forcibly demolished, 1,300 crosses removed, more than 500 Christians taken into police custody, at least 130 Christians physically injured, more than 60 Christians administratively or criminally detained, and at least 28 pastors and Christians arrested or charged with a crime" in this one province alone.

Last year the Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a major speech on religion in which he argued the "management of religion is in essence the management of the masses". According to the report, this speech coincided with the most intense year of persecution since the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.

The report comes months after Xi came to the UK on a state visit in an attempt to improve trade relations between the UK and China.

Release International, a partner charity of China Aid, has urged David Cameron to use Britain's relationship with Xi to push for religious freedom in China. "In all conscience, Britain cannot put trade before human rights," said Paul Robinson, a spokesman for the charity.

"Release urges Christians in the UK to stand in solidarity with our Chinese brothers and sisters, and those in other nations where churches have been demolished," he said.