VOA News April 24, 2011 Peter Simpson | Beijing
Chinese police detained up to 40 Christians who tried to converge at the site of a banned Easter service Sunday and placed 500 more under house arrest.
Photo: VOA - P. Simpson: Police officers filming and checking VOA reporter's documents as he tried to get close to the site of the banned Easter service in Beijing, April 24, 2011
Police deployed in large numbers early Sunday in northwest Beijing, where the independent Shouwang Church planned to hold an outdoor service to mark the holiest day of the Christian calendar.
Church members say up to 40 congregants were rounded up to prevent them from reaching a park close to their former church building, which has been shut down by the authorities.
A VOA correspondent on the scene saw worshippers driven away in buses in the mass police operation. Police prevented foreign journalists from getting close.
Shouwang church member Kathy Lu said many members of the congregation are facing persecution from the authorities and were prevented from attending the service.
"Around 40 were taken away. Over 500 members were not allowed to leave their homes. One of the deacons returned to his home last Friday afternoon and the police came to ask him if he planned to attend the Easter Sunday service. He said yes, so the police said from this moment, you cannot leave this house. I spoke to him an hour ago, and he was still not able to leave the house."
Worshippers have been detained in similar scenes since early April, when acts of defiance against the government began.
Lu says many have lost their jobs and been evicted from their homes because their landlords and bosses are also coming under pressure from security officials.
Authorities evicted Shouwang from its previous place of worship, a rented office space, in November and blocked the congregation of about 1,000 people from entering new premises purchased with church funds.
Less than one kilometer away from the planned open air service, the scene was very different.
Hundreds of Chinese gathered for Easter morning worship at the state-sanctioned Haidian Christian Church.
There, families and youngsters in fancy-dress rabbit ears gave out eggs, sung hymns, rang church bells and prayed.
About 15 million Protestants and five million Catholics worship at official churches in China, according to recent official data.
But an estimated 50 million others are believed to pray at so-called "underground" or "house" churches like Shouwang, which refuse to submit to government regulations.
The persecution of these Christians and other human rights abuses are to be raised with the Chinese government by U.S. officials in Beijing later this week.
The U.S. government has repeatedly criticized China's human rights record. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an autonomous government board, last week condemned the actions against Shouwang.
Sunday's crackdown on Christians comes ahead of next week's annual human rights talks between Beijing and Washington in China.
Lu is among those calling on the United States to demand Beijing respect human rights and religious freedom.