Government officials in the Sichuan Province in southwest China arrested a Christian pastor, Wang Yi of the Early Rain Covenant Church, for attempting to hold a memorial service for the 70,000 people who died 10 years ago in the Sichuan earthquake.
Yi was held for 24 hours before being released, according to his wife, as reported by The New York Times. In the meantime, police rounded up several of the mourners on Saturday morning, using trucks to cart them away, the Times reports.
The U.S. State Department officially condemned the actions of the Chinese government in a statement.
“We are deeply concerned by the Chinese government’s reported harassment of the Early Rain Covenant Church, in Chengdu, Sichuan Province after they planned to hold a memorial service on May 12, for the victims of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake,” the State Department said. “The United States government joins the people of China in mourning the loss of tens of thousands of lives in the tragedy and notes the value of memorializing their lives and calling for full accountability to prevent or mitigate future disasters. Regarding reports that Chinese authorities confiscated Bibles, we call on China to uphold its international commitments to promote respect for religious freedom for all persons.”
Although it is clear that Chinese authorities were out to stop a Christian-led memorial service, as they have cracked down on Christians in the country before, some believe that the motivation behind stopping the memorial service had more to do with a cover-up than religious persecution.
During the earthquake, several newly-constructed Chinese government buildings collapsed, which prompted questions into whether the government construction crews had built the structures up to code. Some believe that a memorial service might have sparked a fresh debate as to whether the buildings were safe in the first place.