Chinese police, national security agents, and religious affairs officials raided a church in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen on April 25, just days after one of the church’s followers spoke to U.S. State Department officials.
The raid took place at Trinity Gospel Harvest Church in Shenzhen’s Longgang District, during a worship service that was attended by about 20 people. According to Shi Minglei’s Twitter posts, the Chinese officials didn’t present any legal document for their raid, and a pastor and some churchgoers could be seen on video footage questioning why the police had entered their church.
Eventually, 10 people—two pastors, a clergyman, and seven churchgoers—were arrested and taken to a local police station in Shenzhen.
Shi had attended services at the church before she and her 5-year-old daughter escaped China and arrived in the United States on April 7, with the help of the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Embassy in China, and U.S.-based Christian nonprofit ChinaAid.
Her husband, Cheng Yuan, was the head of a Chinese non-governmental legal services organization called Changsha Funeng, which he co-founded in 2016. In July 2019, Cheng and two other members of the organization, Wu Gejianxiong and Liu Yongze, were detained by Changsha’s national security agents. Changsha is the capital of Hunan Province.
Cheng, Wu, and Liu were subsequently accused of “subverting state power,” a crime the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) often uses to silence critics of the communist regime. In September 2020, they were put on a secret trial at Changsha’s Intermediate People’s Court.
In a Facebook post published on April 9, Shi explained her many ordeals after her husband was detained. One time, she was interrogated by Chinese secret police for over 20 hours while she was also accused of “subverting state power.” On July 22, 2019, an unnamed Changha’s national security agent threatened Shi that her daughter would also be subjected to interrogation if she didn’t cooperate.
On July 23, 2019, Changsha’s national security agents froze Shi’s bank accounts and took away her identification documents, including her passport. Less than a month later, on Aug. 13, 2019, two of Changsha’s national security agents played Shi a video of her husband begging them to leave her alone.
“They wanted my daughter and I to become their hostages, hoping to silence me, and coerce Cheng Yuan into pleading guilty,” Shi wrote.
On April 20, Shi posted to her Twitter account to say that she and her daughter had a great meeting with U.S. State Department officials.
“I expressed our thanks and appreciation to them for their continuous attention & help,” Shi wrote.
In an interview with Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily on April 25, Shi said she suspects that Chinese authorities made the arrests in retaliation for her meeting with U.S. officials, since nothing like this had ever happened before at the church.
However, she explained that the church’s pastors had long been under the surveillance of Shenzhen’s national security agents. The agents would call them or meet with them in person.
Shi also said she received messages from her relatives still living in mainland China, telling her how they were worried about her and her daughter’s safety. The relative also warned her against meeting with U.S. officials again.