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Chinese authorities arrest two pastors despite lack of warrants

(Reuters/Christian Shepherd)A room that used to house Sunday School classes is pictured at a church in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, China December 18, 2017.

Two pastors were arrested in China's Jiangsu province last week for allegedly operating a school without proper documents.

According to China Aid, several police officers and agents from the religious affairs bureau went into a school being run by the pastors on May 23 and threatened to arrest the teacher without producing any legal documents.

The encounter reportedly resulted in a physical altercation after the class asked the police to cite the law that allowed them to arrest people arbitrarily. One Christian noted that the authorities ended up taking down ID card details as the students sang hymns. "The police softened a little, but they still brought away Pastor Fang and Pastor Wang," the unnamed Christian said, according to China Aid.

Several Christians reportedly went to the Shitun Police Station to find out more details on the arrest of the pastors. China Aid reported that the two pastors were eventually released that same day.

The Chinese government has been stepping up its crackdown on religiously affiliated schools across the country.

In Fujian province, the local government was suspected of hiring an unidentified man to lock the gate of Zhongzi School, which is being operated by Shangli Church.

The local education department has alleged that the school was operating illegally and did not have registration.

Congregants and their children gathered in front of the church next day to pray and express their disappointment about the closure of the church.

"The government is still persecuting the school. I received a call from the police station, who has my household registration and came to investigate the school," an anonymous preacher at the church stated, according to China Aid.

The church's landlord had already made several attempts to evict the school in the past. On May 15, the landlord reportedly placed the lock on the front gate of the church, preventing the students and the pastor from entering the premises. The pastor had decided to lead a group of children in prayer outside the church.

Pressuring landlords is one of the tactics used by Chinese authorities to force unregistered churches to shut down.

In Beijing, a landlord was reportedly forced to revoke the lease of a church due to pressure from the national security brigade.

The church had reportedly chosen to remain anonymous, but one parishioner who identified himself only as Yin noted that local officials have taken photos and investigated the activities of the church during a worship service on May 6.

"The police called us today and forbade us from organizing religious activities in any form," Yin said.

"In the morning, the government forced the [Christian] brother who rented the building to sign a letter guaranteeing that he would not participate in any religious activities. We haven't met with any representatives from the religious affairs bureau yet, and we don't know how to handle all of this," he added.

The crackdown on religion in China has expanded following the implementation of the revised Religious Affairs Regulations on Feb. 1. The campaign initially targeted house churches in Henan, but it has since been enacted in other regions. Some Christians have surmised that the operations in Henan were only the beginning of the efforts to totally eliminate house churches across the country.

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