Persecution rose overall in China last year. Those are the findings, which some won't find that surprising, from the latest report from China Aid. But what may come to a surprise to many is the extent to which religious persecution is happening in China ahead of this year's Olympics. And there are concerns this bodes ill for Christians in particular after the sporting event.
According to China Aid, the known religious cases in which house churches were persecuted by the government covered 18 provinces and one municipality directly under the jurisdiction of the Central Government and there were 60 cases of persecution, up 30.4 percent from that of 2006.
Delving deeper into the report, one finds that the total number of people persecuted was 788, up 18.5 percent from that of the year before.
The total number of people arrested and detained was 693, up 6.6 percent from that of the year before.
On the positive side, China Aid noted that 16 people were sentenced to imprisonment, down 5.9 percent from that of the year before.
Some might argue those are low actual numbers when we are talking about the world's most populous nation. Others, such as myself, see it as ironic that the Olympics - by their very nature meant to open - can be hosted in a nation that still persists in enforcing a closed worldview with respect to religious freedom.
In particular, the China Aid report highlights four characteristics of persecution that the Chinese government is supporting against Christians.
1) Against the house church leaders: According to China Aid, this is also the characteristic in 2006 that is different from the large-scale persecution of ordinary believers in 2005. A total of 415 church leaders were arrested in 2007. This accounts for 59.9 percent of all people arrested and for 52.6 percent of all people suffering persecution.
2) Against house churches in urban areas: Among the 60 cases of persecution, 35 of them occurred in urban areas (not including small towns) which accounts for 58.3 percent, said China Aid. Among these, the number of people persecuted in urban areas is 599, accounting for 76 percent of a total number of 788 people.
4) Against foreign Christians and missionaries: China Aid said that because of "Operation Typhoon No. 5," a total of over 100 (84 already confirmed) foreign Christians were arrested, interrogated and expelled from the country. Most of these were Christians from the West and a few of them were Christians from South Korea and other countries, according to China Aid. About 70 foreign Christians were persecuted in Xinjiang. Some of these foreign Christians were not missionaries, but had their own secular professions in China. However, as they preached the Christian belief or were associated with local Christians and churches, they were persecuted by the government. This is the largest persecution operation of expelling foreign Christians since the early 1950s when the CPC drove out all of the foreign missionaries, China Aid said.
"2007 has seen a widespread increase of persecution across China. Statistics show that the number of cases of persecution, the number of people persecuted and the number of people arrested and detained has made a dramatic increase since 2006," China Aid said. "Concern is that in 2009, after the Beijing Olympics, that the persecution on churches and Christians will escalate and the human rights condition will seriously worsen. "