Chinese police raided the offices of two underground Christian newspapers on Monday and seized four prominent staff members who are still missing, the Texas-based Christian rights group ChinaAid reports.
"Four of the magazines' most important personnel were taken into police custody," ChinaAid said of the raids in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province. "There has been no further word about them."
The publications, A Kernel of Wheat and A Foreign Land, were started by members of China's 40-million strong "house church" movement, an underground network of Christians who meet in private homes because the government disallows them from registering larger spaces to worship and repeatedly cracks down on open-air gatherings, according to Radio Free Asia.
Pastor Zhang Mingxuan, head of the Beijing-based Chinese House Church Alliance, told reporters that he heard about the detainments but had had no clue as to which house churches the detainees belonged, because there are a great number of them in the area.
"The political atmosphere is very tense right now and the house churches are feeling the pressure, too," Mingxuan said.
Persecution of house churches by Chinese authorities was so widespread in 2011 that ChinaAid called it "the year of political and religious persecution," according to The Christian Post.
But activists are predicting that 2012 will be even tougher for house churches.
"Given leadership transition in fall of 2012 we do expect a much harsher year, even more so than 2011, although 2011 already marked the worst in terms of religious freedom, human rights, and rule of law in two decades," Bob Fu, founder of ChinaAid, told The Christian Post in a separate article.