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China Reportedly Arrests Five American Church Leaders, Tortures Christians

A Christian aid organization from the United States says that China has arrested five American church leaders and dozens of Chinese believers. China's Foreign Ministry is not commenting on the report.

The religious rights organization China Aid Association says China arrested five American church leaders along with 27 Chinese pastors this week in the cities of Luoyang and Yichuan in central China's Henan province.

The group's statement did not give the names of the Americans or details of their arrest.

China only allows religious activity in state- approved churches, which it closely monitors.

A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said the embassy takes all cases involving American citizens seriously and is investigating the claims. She could not confirm the arrests had taken place.

Nicolas Becquelin is the spokesman for Human Rights in China. He says China's Communist Party wants to prevent any organization from challenging its hold on power. "The Chinese authorities are still very, very wary that this kind of development, this religion developing could take away more legitimacy from the government and the state," he said.

Members of China's secret, or "underground" churches are often harassed and arrested. However, despite the risk of prison, experts say millions of Chinese worship in unofficial churches.

Mr. Becquelin says Chinese people have lost faith in Communist ideology and many are now looking to religion. "Not many people in China still believe in Marxism or Communism and therefore there is a sort of spiritual void," he added.

The China Aid Association also reported that more than 40 Chinese Christians were tortured after being arrested in Hubei Province earlier this month.

The organization alleges that they were burned with cigarettes and had their wrists with punctured with needles.