The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. The name of the issuing body has been omitted to protect the source.
All websites: Regarding the prohibition of Chengdu Early Rain Covenant Church on the evening of December 9th and the arrest of more than 100 people, no reporting is allowed without exception. (December 10, 2018) [Chinese]
Approximately 100 worshippers from the Early Rain Covenant Church were taken away by authorities on Sunday in what appeared to be a coordinated raid on several of the house church’s meeting points in Chengdu, Sichuan. Mimi Lau at South China Morning Post reports:
Members’ personal accounts and cell group discussions on social media channels were blocked at around 9pm on Sunday while the church’s telephone line was also cut. The homes of the church’s leaders, including pastor Wang Yi, were among those raided.
Zhang Guoqing, assistant deacon of the Early Rain Covenant Church, was among two church members who were released on Monday morning after his arrest by Chengdu police in the Sunday night raids.
[…] Zhang said he headed to Wang’s home at around 7pm on Sunday after hearing about the raids but the pastor and his wife Jiang Rong were nowhere to be found.
“His home was ransacked. It was a mess,” Zhang said.
“The police said our church is an illegal organisation and we cannot attend any more gatherings from now on.”
[…] The Early Rain church has about 500 followers but their weekly gatherings spread across 12 meeting points around Chengdu, attracting more than 800 church-goers on a weekly basis, according to the church’s elders. It also has about 100 seminary students and a primary school catering to about 40 children. [Source]
In China, only state-approved and officially registered religious organizations are allowed to conduct religious activities. The raid in Chengdu is the latest episode in a deepening crackdown on unofficial house churches across the country. In September, officials in Beijing shut down Zion Church, one of the largest Protestant churches in China with more than 1000 members, for operating without state sanction. The church was subsequently ordered to pay 1.2 million yuan in back rent and removal costs.
Members of Early Rain Covenant Church were previously detained by police on June 4th of this year prior to a planned memorial service marking the Tiananmen Square crackdown. In June, Nectar Gan at South China Morning Post reported:
The Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, had planned a two-hour prayer session at 7.30pm to mourn those killed in Beijing 29 years ago.
But soon after 3pm dozens of uniformed and plain-clothes police officers stormed the church, taking away its pastor Wang Yi, along with his wife and more than a dozen preachers and worshippers, members of the church told the South China Morning Post.
[…] Since 2009, the church has designated the period between May 12 and June 4 its “prayer month” to remember the natural and man-made disasters that have hit China on those two dates.
May 12 was the anniversary of the devastating earthquake that struck Sichuan in 2008 while June 4 was the anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown.
Previously the church has only been able to hold a June 4 service when the date fell on a Sunday, and in other years members have gathered in small groups for prayers. [Source]
Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. Some instructions are issued by local authorities or to specific sectors, and may not apply universally across China. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth