Chinese Christians arrested for trying to hold open-air serviceSunday, April 10, 2011
Members of Shouwang church bundled into vans in Beijing in latest Communist party suppression of protest and dissent
Reuters in Beijing guardian.co.uk, Sunday 10 April 2011 11.40 BST
Dozens of Christians who planned to hold an outdoor service in Beijing in protest at being made "homeless" from their place of worship have been arrested, in the latest Communist party crackdown on dissent and demonstrations.
Police cordoned off the walkway where a mobile phone text message had said the service would happen. Officers and plainclothes guards took away dozens of people; it was unclear how many were church members, supporters or bystanders.
The Shouwang church, a Protestant group with about 1,000 members, claims official pressure forced it out of a place of worship it had been renting.
Bob Fu, of the China Aid Association, a US-based group critical of China's controls on religion, said police had told one church elder the planned service would be an "illegal gathering".
Police kept church elders and pastors in their homes to stop them trying to attend the service, and some were held in police stations, Fu said. "Many members of the church are professionals and students, and some are human rights lawyers, which also makes the church a target," he added.
Reuters reporters were kept away from the site of the planned service, followed by police officers and shoved away by plainclothes guards who would not say whom they worked for. "We will live up to our duty to protect stability in Beijing. There's nothing happening here," said one police officer who stopped and checked reporters.
The Chinese government has been alarmed about calls for protests inspired by anti-authoritarian uprisings across the Middle East. The artist Ai Weiwei, a prominent human rights advocate, was held by police this month during a wide security clampdown
Fu said: "I think this reflects the overall panic mood of the government leadership over what's happening in the Middle East and north Africa. I don't see any possibility that the government will yield to [the church's] demands, given the climate there. It's reasonable to expect more clashes."
Chinese authorities have detained many dozens, if not hundreds, of dissidents, human rights activists and persistent protesters. Many remain in custody.
Ai Weiwei was detained by police a week ago, and the government has since said he is suspected of "economic crimes". His family has rejected that charge as unfounded.
On Saturday Beijing dismissed a US state department report claiming its human rights restrictions and abuses were worsening, saying it wanted no interference in what it deemed internal affairs.
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