China's repressive government is stepping up efforts to cripple the organizational structure of the nation's unofficial house churches, which may have as many as 50 million followers.According to a handwritten, hand-carried report just received from Chinese Evangelistic Fellowship, 53 of its Bible-school teachers, students and church-planters were detained in August.Some have been released but an unknown number remain in custody. Frank Lu of the Hong Kong Information Center of Human Rights says that the current campaign against unregistered religious organizations started last year in order "to smash the organizational structures of these groups."Late last year, the government arrested and sentenced Shen Yi-ping, the leader of the fellowship, to a labor camp.
Trade debate proceeds
Previous reports out of China have recently detailed the arrests in August of over 100 members of another house-church movement, the Fangcheng church in Henan. The current report would increase the number of arrests to well over 150. News of the arrests comes just as China's paramount leader, Jiang Zemin, was visiting the United States and as the U.S. Senate considers Permanent Normal Trading Relations with China.In addition, the U.S. State Department also has issued a scathing report on the "marked deterioration of religious freedom" in China. Ambassador Robert Seiple denounced the Chinese government's "inhumane brutal treatment of people on the basis of faith.""Certainly, a lot of people in China itself think that the government's approach is just nuts," says a former U.S. government official with long experience with China. "What puzzles me is that the government isn't taking into account the negative impact of this on foreign opinion just when ...1