Beijing Police Arrest Group of ChristiansSunday, April 24, 2011
The Wall Street Journal ASIA NEWS APRIL 25, 2011 By BRIAN SPEGELE
BEIJING—Police in Beijing detained more than 30 evangelical Christians as they attempted to gather outdoors for Easter services and confined about 500 to their homes, continuing a broad crackdown on dissent that has also targeted lawyers, bloggers and human-rights activists.
Church leaders as well as U.S.-based ChinaAid, a group that tracks cases of religious persecution of Christians in China, confirmed at least 34 worshipers were detained in northwest Beijing's Haidian district. It was the third time in recent weeks that police have detained church members as they attempted to gather for services.
The recent crackdown comes during a period of heightened tension in Beijing as anonymous online calls for a "Jasmine Revolution" have set the country's security apparatus on edge. Ai Weiwei, the widely known artist and activist, is in police custody on what authorities describe as an investigation into "economic crimes."
Shouwang is one of China's most famous "house" churches, the name given to congregations that aren't officially sanctioned by the government, with about 1,000 members. Many house churches have operated openly in recent years and appeared to be tolerated by authorities.
The church's pastor, Jin Tianming, is among those under detention in his home. He said police officers were stationed 24 hours a day outside his residence in Beijing to prevent him from leaving.
Unlike formal house arrests, which are a form of punishment under the country's legal system, the home confinement of Shouwang church members is done extrajudicially. Informal home confinements have become a commonly employed tactic by police for handling rights activists, among other government critics.
"I'm not scared," Mr. Jin said in an interview Sunday. "I don't think too much about my individual situation. As a pastor, my concern is religious conviction."
Most of those detained remained in police custody on Sunday night, said Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid. Around 30 church members were detained under similar circumstances last weekend.
Police officials in Beijing couldn't be reached to comment Sunday evening.
Shouwang church leaders had announced their plans to take services outdoors after they were evicted recently from hosting services at a Beijing restaurant. Mr. Fu said church members were herded into waiting police buses Sunday as they attempted to gather. It isn't clear whether any of the churchgoers will face formal charges.
"This is not a political appeal or civil disobedience. It's a matter of core faith of these believers," Mr. Fu said.
The crackdown on the Shouwang church is part of a wider effort to suppress what the government views as dissent. Dozens of writers, artists, lawyers and political activists have been detained in recent weeks.
While technically illegal, house churches have been largely tolerated by authorities. Last year, the state-run China Daily newspaper ran a story about house churches, even highlighting the Shouwang congregation. It said Beijing had developed an "increasingly open attitude" toward house churches.
Mr. Fu said recent government pressure extends beyond the Shouwang church. He cited cases in southeastern Guangdong province and China's Inner Mongolia province where authorities had broken up well-known house churches.
According to the Pew Research Center, between 50 million and 70 million Chinese worship in house churches, and more than 25 million worship in state-sanctioned Catholic and Protestant churches. The Communist Party, by comparison, has around 60 million members.
Mr. Fu said Shouwang church members have faced heavy pressure from authorities in recent days, and many expected consequences.
Write to Brian Spegele at email@example.com
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