MIDLAND, Texas (Christian Examiner) --Christians in China are seeing the fiercest persecution in over a decade according to a new report by China Aid, a human rights organization that exposes injustice and defends religious freedom in the communist country.
According to the Texas-based organization's 2014 annual report "The Year of "Persecution and Endurance" released last week, the overall religious persecution by the Chinese government against its citizens rose 152.74 percent since 2013. Last year alone China Aid documented 572 persecution events that involved harm against 17,884 individuals -- a 300 percent increase since 2013.
Despite the astonishing numbers, the data pales in comparison to the actual circumstances faced by both Protestant and Catholic Christians in the nation, according to Rachel Ritchie, China Aid's English media director and a a spokesperson for the organization.
"I think it is a very small representation of what is really happening. As we reported there were just over 17,000 people who were religiously persecuted, but we know compared to the number of Christians in China that is very small and we know that religious persecution is a lot more widespread than those numbers," Ritchie told Christian Examiner.
China Aid identified six categories of persecution in compiling their report, including the total number of persecution cases; the number of religious practitioners persecuted; the number of citizens detained; the number of citizens sentenced; the number of severe abuse cases and the number of individuals in severe abuses cases.
Each category reportedly increased between 100 and 11,000 percent with the largest increase seen in the number of citizens who were sentenced to prison, which rose actual count from 12 in 2013 to 1,274 in 2014.
Ritchie noted that even a small number of non-Christian citizens were persecuted because of guilt by association. As an example she recounted an instance where a commercial printer was arrested with a group of Christians for aiding them with the printing of their books.
China Aid's report said "the rapid increase in the number of Christians in China over the past decade has triggered a unique sense of crisis within the [Communist Party of China]."
Fears about this expansion of Christianity coupled with a rise in social conflict in the country from a "post-totalitarian era" led officials to crack down on freedoms, the report explained. The resulting government campaign referred to as "Three Rectifications and One Demolition" accounted for the increased persecution.
The demolition element of the initiative largely targets China's east coast and seeks to destroy church buildings that do not remove symbolic crosses affixed to outside structures. China Aid described an account where hundreds of government employees showed up at a church to demolish its cross because it was "too high," and in the process arrested 10 people for resisting the removal of the cross.
In all, an estimated 100 church buildings were demolished and 1,000 crosses were forcibly removed, according to China Aid.
The Organization called the activity over the last year the most "severe suppressive measures since the Cultural Revolution."