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Chinese officials pressure Beijing landlords to cancel contracts with house churches

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

Chinese officials in Beijing have reportedly been pressuring landlords in the past week to cancel their leases to house churches.

According to China Aid, the national security brigade of the Xicheng District Public Security Bureau visited a church on May 6 and investigated the proceedings. Two days after the visit, the brigade reportedly asked the landlord of the building to cancel the lease of the church.

The church had asked to remain anonymous, but a member had told China Aid how the officials pressured the Christians to stop conducting services at the building.

"The police called us today and forbade us from organizing religious activities in any form," a church member only identified as Yin said, according to China Aid.

"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," the church member added.

Another parishioner recounted that the police have promised to leave the church alone if it moves to a location out of their jurisdiction. However, the church members were concerned that they would just face harassment from the authorities in the new area.

An elder from another church told China Aid on May 9 that the authorities have also been harassing Christians in his neighborhood.

Xu Yonghai, an elder from Holy Love Fellowship, said that the normal activities of his church were disrupted by the police, who have been asking him about people who will attend a Bible study session.

"[W]e gathered for a Bible study on Friday, April 20. On April 19, the police showed up at my house and asked me: 'Who is going to attend the gathering tomorrow? Will there be reporters?' A few reporters visit our church frequently and attend the Bible study sessions. Two reporters had planned to come on April 20," Xu narrated.

According to Xu, one reporter had called him and said that he would not go inside the building after seeing the police and officials from the neighborhood committee.

The church elder noted that the authorities had harassed members of Holy Love Fellowship in the past.

In January 2014, 13 members of the church were detained for "gathering illegally." Seven more members of the church were arrested for "using evil cults to disrupt law enforcement," according to China Aid.

Beijing officials have stepped up the crackdown against religion in the past few weeks. In April, government officials have reportedly forced the Zion Church to install surveillance cameras inside and outside of the church premises.

Members were reportedly interrogated by officials regarding their housing situations, occupations, details about their families as well as their relationship with the church.

The unregistered house church reportedly tried to calm its members by quoting part of China's Constitution that guarantees the freedom of religion for citizens. The church also promised parishioners that it will safeguard their rights, maintain their safety and support them in accordance with Chinese law.

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