A priest was detained along wth three staff in Henan, north-east China, after local authorities stripped the church of its cross, religion watchdog International Christian Concern (ICC) has reported. Wu Raoyun, Bai Yun, Ma Yanfang, as well as Pastor Li Juncai from Zhongxin Church in Xinxiang County were arrested for resisting the removal of the cross on February 20. The priest’s son, Li Chao, confirmed to Radio Free Asia that his father was charged with “disrupting public service” after repeatedly stopping the local authorities from removing the religious monument. He added he protested the removal of the cross “once or twice”. He and the other staff from the church, of which there are up to 700 worshipers there, were arrested when the local government used riot police to storm into the building and remove the cross.

Elderly worshippers and others praying were reportedly pushed out of the church during the removal.

A witness told ICC: “They hit people! The law enforcement hit people and drove the elderly away. They forcibly destroyed the lock and opened the gate. They are just like bandits.”

The witness said a pole was installed by workers at the order of authorities to fly the national flag in the church compound.

The removal follows news the Henan government began scrapping crosses across the province last year in an increasing crackdown on Christianity.

Up to 4,000 churches have had there crosses removed across China, with some churches having also been completely demolished.

The banishing of crosses is a move put forward by Beijing’s Communist Party, where the ideology is that of equality has to be exalted higher than religion.

China is one of the worst areas for Christian persecution, along with India and Turkey, which made headlines yesterday after thugs spray painted threats on an Armenian church with messages in both English and Arabic warning “you are finished”.

Security cameras recorded the vandals spraying the “racist and hate speech” on the walls and door of the Armenian Church of the Holy Mother of God.