Anti-persecution charity China Aid said a team backed by Chinese authorities arrived to demolish Beitou Church in Zhumadian in the central Henan province in early April.

According to reports, pastor Lian Jiangong and his wife Ding Cuimei stood in the way of the bulldozer, but it carried on regardless, burying them alive and destroying the building.

Lian Jiangong managed to free himself from the soil in time, but Ding Cuimei could not and suffocated to death.

Chinese authorities have said they have arrested the two men involved and are investigating Ding Cuimei’s death.

China Aid’s president, Bob Fu, said, ‘Bulldozing and burying alive Ding Cuimei, a peaceful and devout Christian woman, was a cruel, murderous act.

‘This case is a serious violation of the rights to life, religious freedom and rule of law. ‘The Chinese authorities should immediately hold those murderers accountable and take concrete measures to protect the religious  freedom of this house church’s members.’

In recent years, thousands of church crosses have been torn down and whole church buildings demolished across the region.

Andrew Boyd, from the anti-persecution charity Release International, told Premier: ‘What we’re seeing in China is that the number of Christians there probably already exceeds members of the Communist Party, and China is on target to have the largest Christian population in the world before much longer, so it seems the Communist Party fears its authority is being challenged.

‘What Release International would say to China is, you need to realise that Christians are not a threat, they’re a blessing to your nation. They pray for the government, not against it.’