Chinese police detain members of unregistered church
The roundup of more than 100 Chinese worshipers trying to hold an outdoor prayer service in Beijing suggests that the recent government crackdown on activists, bloggers and intellectuals now includes Christian groups previously left alone.
Chinese police on Sunday detained more than 100 churchgoers who tried to hold an outdoor prayer service on a pedestrian bridge in Beijing after having failed to secure permission to open a church.
Although it is not uncommon for police to raid unregistered churches, the bust in the very heart of the capital suggests that the dragnet around activists, bloggers, lawyers and intellectuals now includes Christian groups that in the past were able to slide under the radar.
The 8-year-old Shouwang Church, with a congregation of about 1,000, has been popular among young professionals and academics. In recent years it has complained that the government was pressuring landlords not to rent the group space in various hotels and office buildings where they wanted to hold services.
Alerted by text messages and emails that churchgoers would start gathering at 8:30 a.m., police swarmed around the designated meeting point: an elevated walkway between two office buildings near Beijing’s university neighborhood in Haidian District.
“Some followers who gathered at the original meeting point were dispersed by a group of plainclothes police officers who stormed in like wolves and tigers,” one Christian activist wrote on Twitter.
More than 100 people were loaded onto buses and vans, some of them singing hymns as they were taken away, according to the China Aid Assn., a U.S.-based Christian group. Cellphone coverage was cut off in the area, apparently to prevent news of the detentions from spreading. Most of those detained were taken to a nearby school for questioning and released. But the pastor, Jin Tianming, was reported by the group to be under house arrest.
“By using force today in the capital of China to prevent Shouwang Church members from following their conscience … the Beijing authorities have again demonstrated their total disregard of their citizens’ constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right to religious freedom,” China Aid President Bob Fu said in a statement.
Shouwang Church leaders could not be reached for comment and a website for the church had been taken down.