Pastor and church members in China arrested after taking part in online Easter service

Soldiers march in Tiananmen Square before a wreath laying ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in Beijing, China, September 30, 2019.(Photo: Reuters/Thomas Peter)

A pastor and several members of his church were detained by police as they took part in an online worship session on Easter Sunday.

The Early Rain Covenant Church, in China's Sichuan province, was hosting an online worship session in celebration of Easter when several members were taken away from their homes by members of the Public Security Bureau, International Christian Concern (ICC) reports. 

One member of the house church told ICC that she was taking part in the service via Zoom when everything went quiet. 

At first, she thought it was a network connection issue but then she heard what sounded like a quarrel involving another member of the church. 

At one point, she says she heard the church member say, "Who are you to do this [to us]?"

In one participant's home, the electricity was cut off, while others received phone calls telling them that the police were going to visit them soon, she said. 

Another member of the church told ICC that he received a police warning telling him not to listen to the sermons of the church's imprisoned pastor Wang Yi.

"Don't participate in already banned [religious] activities anymore! Don't listen to Pastor [Wang]'s sermons anymore! If you do this again, we will deal with it seriously and take you away!" the church member alleged. 

ICC said that the six church members detained by the police have since been released.

The church has been the target of harassment by the authorities since 2018, when it criticised the introduction of stricter regulations for places of worship.

Last December, Pastor Wang was sentenced to nine years in prison for "inciting to subvert state power", and "illegal business operations".

ICC said that this latest police action against the church came after one member of the congregation, Chen Yan, filed a lawsuit against the authorities for unlawful harassment.

Gina Goh, ICC's Regional Manager for Southeast Asia, said that the authorities had been monitoring and harassing church members "with the hope that the church will disperse itself".

She called on the UN to reverse its decision to appoint China to its Human Rights Council.

"It is such a shame that the Chinese government has not once stopped its persecution of ERCC," she said. 

"In a time when the Chinese people are suffering from the Covid-19 pandemic, the heartless regime chose to inflict more trouble on its citizens.

"The UN should immediately suspend China's appointment to the Human Rights Council for its lack of respect for human rights."