Beijing intensifies church crackdown, seizes Taiwan travel permits

Members of church subjected to arrest, travel restrictions

Taipei, Aug. 10 (CNA) Chinese authorities have intensified a crackdown on a Chengdu church by restricting the movements of some of its members, including by confiscating their travel permit to Taiwan, the Early Rain Covenant Church has said on Facebook.

The Chinese government has tried to suppress the church, which is not officially sanctioned, since December 2018 and more than 100 of its members have been arrested to date. Five are still being held in custody, including church founder and pastor Wang Yi (王怡), who was charged with inciting subversion.

According to a church bulletin posted on its Facebook page on Aug. 9, new travel restrictions have been placed on many church members and their families since late July. Some of them were harassed and persecuted by authorities when they went to visit their hometowns outside of Chengdu.

Among the authorities who harassed them was the Domestic Security Protection Bureau, which is responsible for dealing with dissidents and activists. A family surnamed Zhu (朱), which was planning to go outside of Chengdu to visit their hometown, was brought to a police station in Chengdu for questioning and had their travel permits to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao confiscated, the bulletin said.

The latest move comes on the heels of church member Liao Qiang (廖強) and five family members flying to Taiwan in July as tourists and seeking asylum in the United States. They are still in Taiwan, but there has been no word of progress in their case.

After news of their asylum request surfaced in July, several of the church's members were interrogated and police officers took photos of their residences, the church said. According to its post on Facebook, the church believes the more intensive monitoring of church members may be because Oct. 1, China's National Day, is approaching, but it did not elaborate.

The latest bulletin also said church members were not being treated in accordance with state law, as the Chinese government has claimed. Wang's lawyer Zhang Peihong (張培鴻) said on his Facebook page that he has not been able to see his client and his many phone calls to the Chengdu Prosecutor's Office have gone unanswered.

Another lawyer hired by Wang, Ran Tong (冉彤), was denied access to case documents and was even threatened by officers from the Chengdu justice department to withdraw from the case or "he would be in danger," the church's Facebook post said. The church has come under the Chinese authoritarian government's scrutiny because it has held an annual prayer service on June 4 to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square Incident, an anniversary Beijing frowns upon recognizing.

Wang Yi, who was a human rights lawyer, liberal scholar and writer before becoming a clergyman, also refused to register his church with Chinese authorities due to his belief in religious freedom.