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Christians have been detained, and churches shut down or destroyed in China in the month before revised Regulations on Religious Affairs are due to come into effect on 1 February, which strengthen state control over religious activities in China and include special provisions on national security and foreign connections. 

On 18 January, six members of an unregistered church group in Yunnan Province were sentenced to up to 13 years in prison for ‘using an evil cult to organize to undermine law enforcement’. The defendants were accused of belonging to a group called the Three Grades of Servants, which the government has labelled an ‘evil cult’. They deny being members of the group. According to China Aid, some 200 Christians have been detained in the province and falsely accused of being members of the group. 

Earlier in January, Chinese authorities in Shanxi Province demolished the 50,000-member Golden Lampstand (Jindengtai) Church using dynamite. The state-run Global Times reported that the church had been demolished as part of a city-wide campaign against ‘illegal buildings’. In 2009, the church’s leaders were imprisoned for up to seven years after attempting to lodge a complaint about an attack on the church by hundreds of police and plainclothes officers, in which a number of church members were injured. The longest sentence was given to Pastor Yang Rongli, who was released in October 2016. In December 2017, Asia News reported that a 20 year-old Catholic Church in Shaanxi Province was demolished despite having the necessary permits from the Religious Affairs Bureau. 

A third development this month concerned the case of Living Stone Church in Guizhou Province. The church’s two pastors have been fined over US$1 million for collecting ‘illegal’ donations from members of the congregation. Pastor Su Tianfu and Pastor Yang Hua have filed several appeals on the basis that the money was voluntarily donated by church members and was only used to fund church activities. The appeals were all rejected.

– Christian Solidarity Worldwide