The religious freedom In China – if we dare to call it so – is granted only to some “State Churches” that are approved by the totalitarian Communist Party government. All the other religious communities are not admitted. Since 1995 the government issued and routinely update a list of so called Xie Jiao (literally that are considered illegal. The Chinese Criminal Code article # 300 foresees a jail penalty of 3 to 7 tears “or more” for the sole active membership to a religious movement included in the Xie Jiao list. The government even established a special police body tio eradicate such movements. Unfortunately the state persecution is not limited to deprive freedom as there are frequent reports about torture and killings of jailed people, as happened to He Chengrong, manager of the Church of Almighty God: she was arrested, tortured and killed while in jail, then her body was cremated against the will of her family and to hide the evidences of the abuses committed. The law provides for it, persecution is codifies by the legal system: if the you are a member of the religious group that is not approved by the state you will end up in jail. And during the last few months the Chinese government ha has cracked down and moved to mass arrests.
On June 26-28, a full-scale “Operation Thunder” in Liaoning Province resulted in massive arrests of members of this Christian new religious movement. In just three days, more than 500 believers of The Church of Almighty God were arrested all over the province, prompting thousands to flee their homes. The number of arrests continues to grow.
On June 26, Liaoning Public Security Department gathered its police forces and started the arrests by conducting stakeouts and using the information they had previously collected by monitoring and tracking members of the Church. In some cases, they entered homes pretending to be plumbers or couriers.
Nearly 300 people were arrested in Dalian and Panjin, 47 in Dandong, 39 in Chaoyang, 36 in Benxi, 23 in Jinzhou, 19 in Shenyang, 14 in Fuxin, nine in Fushun, eight in Huludao, five in Yingkou, two in Tieling, and one in Anshan. Their homes were searched, large amounts of books on religion and the Church as well as personal belongings were taken away by the police.
A source in the CCP government revealed that this special operation was classified as top secret. To prevent any leaks prior to the arrests, the government kept information on the targets from police officers and purposefully dispatched them to other areas during the operation. Officers were required to sign a confidentiality agreement. The authorities released the list of names for arrest only in the final ten minutes before the operation commenced on June 26. Officers also received a group notice through WeChat, Chinese social media platform, strictly requiring them to work day and night to complete the arrests.
Based on the information from sources who wished to remain anonymous, as early as February and March, the CCP government issued a number of confidential memos ordering comprehensive punishment and arrests of believers from The Church of Almighty God. They even engaged nationwide forces, ordering the police in different regions, civil affairs bureaus, vice offices, and neighborhood committees to search for members of the Church, mobilizing village cadres, retired workers, cleaners, and building managers to participate in the operation. The CCP government made a plan to register all The Church of Almighty God members whose cases have been put on record and who are well-known, as well as all family members of those who have escaped abroad and who have applied for asylum in other countries, then arrest them all in one sweep on June 26.
The Church of Almighty God is suffering the toughest and most severe persecutions of all house churches in China. The establishment and rapid growth of this Church have been a constant source of fear for the CCP government, and secret orders have come from top leadership many times to eradicate The Church of Almighty God.
The Church claims that as many as 380,000 its members were arrested in 2011-2013. Another massive wave of arrests followed in 2014. Starting in January 2018, the CCP government has once again rolled out a nationwide operation directly targeting The Church of Almighty God. In May, the Church’s members in Jiangsu Province and Chongqing City suffered concurrent large-scale arrests and suppression: at least 120 people were arrested.