Christians held in China crackdown


CHINA’S BIGGEST crackdown in years continued yesterday as scores of worshippers from the Shouwang Christian house church were detained by police after they tried to hold their service in a public space.

Christians in China are required by law to worship in state-run churches, but houses or underground churches are becoming increasingly popular, despite being technically illegal and often subject to police harassment.

The police arrested clergy and lay leaders from the Shouwang church, one of the capital’s largest house churches, after more than 1,000 members decided to meet outdoors following eviction from their usual gathering place, the ChinaAid rights group said in a statement.

One worshipper said the police behaved “like wolves and tigers” in scattering the gathering.

The Christians sang hymns and prayed as the police took down their details in a nearby primary school.

The authorities also shut down mobile phone services in the area in what looked like an effort to stop news from getting out.

“By using force today in the capital of China to prevent Shouwang church members from following their conscience in continuing their weekly practice of Sunday worship in full knowledge of the risk they faced, the Beijing authorities have again demonstrated their total disregard of their citizens’ constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right to religious freedom,” ChinaAid founder and president Bob Fu said in a statement.

Shouwang pastor Yuan Ling was placed under house arrest on Saturday night and could not attend the meeting.

There is heightened security about public gatherings amid calls by overseas groups for Chinese citizens to march on Sundays to mark their support for the Jasmine revolutions sweeping authoritarian governments in the Middle East.

The latest US state department report on human rights across the globe said Beijing had stepped up restrictions on lawyers, activists, bloggers and journalists; tightened controls on civil society; and raised efforts to control the press, the internet and internet access.

China’s response was furious, stressing that foreigners shouldn’t interfere in the country’s business.

Separately, Gao Ge, the sister of detained artist Ai Weiwei, said police had still not told the family where he is being held or why, nearly a week after he was grabbed at a Beijing airport.

There has been an international outcry over Mr Ai’s detention. China said he may be charged for “economic crimes”.