Pressure on Christians is increasing in China’s central Henan province, according to Catholic news service UCAN.

Suppressive measures on both Catholic and Protestant churches have been directed by the central government in Beijing and have intensified in recent weeks, according to UCAN, which reported that churches had been “demolished and raided, as well as hundreds of Bibles and holy books confiscated” in seven out of ten dioceses in the province.

Unnamed sources quoted by UCAN linked the crackdown to the installation of a new Communist Party Secretary, Wang Guosheng in mid-March.

“[He] has been busy and says it will only take a year to rectify the province” of unregistered churches, said one source.

Wang, 62, took office after the government noticed the growth in Henan of ‘house churches’ – unregistered churches that meet in people’s homes.

Under President Xi Jinping, China’s government has sought to increase control over religious affairs and practice, but local sources told World Watch Monitor that religious restrictions are generally tighter in Henan than elsewhere.

‘Minors can’t enter the church’

Two weeks ago an unregistered Catholic church in Zhumadian Diocese, southern Henan, was sealed off by the government. Although Gadazhang Catholic Church was not registered with the government, the parish priest was, UCAN said in another report.

A video that was posted online after the event shows someone trying to reopen the entrance gate while others argue with the official who locked the gate.

In Henan’s capital, Zhengzhou, government employees have been guarding the entrance of churches since Easter, AsiaNews was told by sources in the country, making sure that children under 18 are not entering, as part of the new regulations on religion that prohibit the religious education of children.

In the northern city of Anyang, government officials barred children from the cathedral with a sign by the entrance stating “Minors may not enter the church”.

‘House church’ leader in prison

Meanwhile a key figure in China’s ‘house church’ movement, Pastor John Cao, has been sentenced to seven years in prison for “organising others to cross the border illegally”.

Cao, nearly 60, who is a Chinese citizen but has a legal permanent status in the US, was arrested when he returned from a visit to Myanmar, where he was involved with providing humanitarian aid to minority groups in the mountains, his son told the Huffington Post.

He said the authorities had known for three years that the pastor crossed into Myanmar on a regular basis, often taking volunteers with him from the Bible schools he had helped to build in China.

“I suspect [the arrest and sentencing] is tied to the broader, nationwide efforts to stop the momentum of the Protestant movement in today’s China,” Xi Lian, an expert in Chinese Christianity at Duke University, told the newspaper.

“It may also have to do with enforcing the national boundary, which it sees as being undermined by the border crossings of minority peoples whose ethnic and cultural identity takes precedence over their national identity and their loyalty to the Chinese state.”