Chinese authorities came down hard on churches last year, according to the latest report from Human Rights Watch.
Persecution in 2015 included the removal of crosses, the demolition of entire churches in Zhejiang Province, considered the heartland of Chinese Christianity, and the detainment of at least a hundred Christians for resisting the demolitions.
"The campaign is publicly described as an effort to remove 'illegal structures' that do not comply with zoning requirements, but according to an internal provincial directive, it is designed to reduce the prominence of Christianity in the region," HRW stated in its 2016 World Report.
The group also cited a statement by a top Chinese Communist Party official who told religious leaders in June that "hostile forces" are using religion to infiltrate China, and that they must "Sinicize (make Chinese) religion" to ensure that religious worship contributes to national unity.
Earlier in February, the pastor of the largest government-sanctioned church in China, Pastor Gu Yuese of Hangzhou's Chongyi Church, was arrested.
Gu, who was punished for speaking out against the government's actions, became the highest ranking government-sanctioned church official to be arrested since the cultural revolution in the 1960s, according to Bob Fu of China Aid.
"I think the likely scenario to happen is that he will be indicted, and depending on his confession, and how cooperative he is, the length of sentence can be negotiated," Fu told The Christian Post in an interview earlier this month.
"It will shake the spirit of the government-sanctioned church leaders and the congregations throughout China. All these factors will have a ripple effect."
The HRW report noted that the government often classifies religious groups outside of its control as "evil cults," and has gone after Buddhist sects as well.
China continues to officially deny that it is persecuting religious minorities, however, with Communist Party member Li Yunlong writing in China Daily that human rights criticism is "a product of subjective bias and prejudice" with "no foundation in reality."
"In China, all citizens can freely choose their own religious beliefs, express their beliefs and take part in religious activities. The social environment is constantly improving for the prosperity of religion in China, and society has become more and more objective and reasonable toward religions," Li said, according to Breitbart.
Other concerns cited in the HRW report include the explicit rejection of the universality of human rights, with senior Chinese leaders characterizing these ideas as "foreign infiltration," and penalizing those who promote them; the arrest of about 280 human rights lawyers and activists, with 40 still in custody (most in secret locations without access to lawyers or family, some beyond the legal time limits); and tighter Internet censorship.