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China detains 2 Christian women and 3-year-old boy for taking part in missionary work

(Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon)Believers take part in a weekend mass at an underground Catholic church in Tianjin November 10, 2013.

Chinese authorities have taken two women and a three-year-old boy into custody for conducting missionary work in the city of Xianning, Hubei.

On Sept. 22, Pastor Xu Shizhen, her daughter, Xu Yuqing, and Xu Yuqing's 3-year-old son, Xu Shouwang, were arrested by the police and religious affairs bureau personnel after they took part in Zion Church's efforts to spread the Gospel in the city's public parks and squares.

According to China Aid, the local religious affairs, public security, and national security bureaus frequently interrupted the Christian women while they sang, danced, and preached.

Family members who went to the police station on Sept. 24 were told that the two women were separated from the child. The authorities kept him at the station while they transferred his grandmother and mother to other facilities.

The operation to block the evangelistic activities of Zion church was spearheaded by the deputy director of the Xianan District Religious Affairs Bureau, Yang Haijun.

On Sept. 13, Yang led police officers to Change Square to prevent Xu Shizhen and other church members from sharing their faith with others.

In late August, Xu Shizhen had received a notice from the religious affairs bureau, accusing the church of violating the Regulations on Religious Affairs and ordering her to stop its missionary work.

Xu Shizhen had previously served as the pastor of Hongqiao Church before it was acquired by the Three-Self Church in April 2012 after officials forcibly occupied its building and damaged church property. She decided to leave the church and start a new one, but the police continued to harass them.

The Chinese government has been stepping up its crackdown on churches ahead of the implementation of the revised edition of its Regulations on Religious Affairs in February.

Last month, The Association of Christian Students, an institution affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party, issued a report detailing plans to launch a specialized management program targeting private churches, "illegal" religious organizations, and preachers who have not been ordained by the state.

Under the program, churches will be forced to register with the state-run Three-Self Patriotic Movement. Smaller churches will be forcibly combined with registered churches, and those that refuse to register will be banned.

The government will reportedly shut down churches that have been deemed by the public security and religious affairs bureaus as "illegal religious organizations, organizations influenced or controlled by foreign powers intending to infiltrate [the country], or [religious] gathering places that broke the laws or are under the control of cults."

Due to its stringent rules on religion, China has been ranked in the Open Door USA's World Watch List as the 39th country where Christians face the most persecution.

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