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US-Based Group Accuses China of New Crackdown on Underground Churches

A U.S.-based religious rights group says authorities in China have recently carried out a major crackdown on underground Christian churches in northeastern Jilin province.

The China Aid Association says police and Public Security Bureau officers launched simultaneous raids last month against about 100 so-called "house churches." They reportedly rounded up about 600 people - both church leaders and ordinary believers - around Changchun city, capital of Jilin province.

China Aid Association says in a statement issued at its headquarters in Midland, Texas, that most detainees were released after one or two days of interrogation following the raids on May 22, but that approximately 100 people are still being held in various detention centers.

Those in custody are said to include professors from Changchun University. China Aid Association says many university students and professors attend Jilin's underground churches. The rights group says its informants believe local authorities are carrying out a coordinated campaign to eliminate unofficial Christian churches' influence on the university community.

China forbids operations by any churches that are not approved by the state and strictly monitored by the government. Many Chinese, however, prefer to attend underground or "house" churches.

China Aid Association named one of those arrested last month as 58-year-old Zhao Dianru, who had links to 18 underground churches. Mr. Zhao, who was released on June 6 after two weeks of questioning, was accused of instigating and disturbing social stability. Arrest documents did not specifically mention Mr. Zhao's religious activities, but he reportedly had refused three recent invitations to switch his affiliation to government-sanctioned churches.