Fugong police in China’s Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan province, took four Christians into custody on 12 January for participating in a Bible study in August 2022.
Five Bible teachers who also attended the meeting have been detained since early August 2022. According to a source familiar with the situation, the teachers include three ethnic Nu men, Wang Shunping, Nu Sangdeng and San Luobo, and two women, Hua Xiuxia and Dong Mengru. All five have been formally charged with ‘organising and sponsoring an illegal gathering’, which in reality consisted of prayer and free Bible and music lessons for young people.
Mr Nu’s younger brother Nu Sangkai, Mr San’s girlfriend Liu Yanlan and two other Christians who participated in the same gathering were subsequently placed under administrative detention by police in Fugong county on 12 January. The grounds for their detention are as yet unknown.
Villages in the Nujiang Grand Canyon have significant numbers of Protestant Christians, and the area is known as “the Gospel Valley” due to its rich missionary legacy. The recent detentions are indicative of an increasing crackdown on churches in the area, some of which were established by Western missionaries in the early 20th century. One source told CSW that ‘it seems that the authorities want to root out the Christian faith’ from the area.
In a document dated February 2022, the Policy and Regulation Division of the Yunnan Provincial Ethnic and Religious Commission stated: ‘Religious issues in Yunnan are intertwined with ethnic and border issues, and there are more hidden problems and emergencies in the religious field.’
China’s 2017 Regulations on Religious Affairs prohibit preaching in schools but do not prohibit under-18s from entering religious sites. However, the authorities in many provinces, including Guizhou, Hubei, Qinghai, Shanxi, Tibet and Yunnan, have issued their own sets of religious regulations which proscribe ‘organising, inducing or forcing minors to participate in religious activities.’ This effectively renders any religious youth work illegal.
The offence of ‘organising and sponsoring an illegal gathering’, which was added to China’s Criminal Code in 2015, carries a custodial sentence of up to three years. In August 2022, Geng Zejun, a preacher from the Rock Church in Shizuishan, Ningxia, was convicted and jailed for one year and three months on this charge.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: ‘It is alarming to see more people detained for participating in a private Christian gathering, just before the Chinese New Year festivities. CSW calls for the immediate release of all Christians in Yunnan and Ningxia who are currently deprived of their liberty arbitrarily and unjustly. Again, we urge the Chinese authorities to respect the right of all citizens, including children and young people, to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief. China must end the targeting of religious leaders who choose not to register with the government, those who work among ethnic minority communities and those who teach children and youth groups.’