China cracks down on underground churches

AM Stephen McDonell reported this story on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 08:24:00
PETER CAVE: First it was activists, then human rights lawyers and artists, now China’s crackdown on dissent is focusing on so-called underground Christians.
Detentions and house arrests have followed unsuccessful attempts by worshippers to hold outdoor services in the capital, Beijing.
Christian groups have responded by petitioning the Chinese Parliament, the National People’s Congress, calling for an investigation into the growing conflict between underground Christians and the Chinese authorities.

Yet this subject remains highly sensitive and just how sensitive China correspondent Stephen McDonell found out first hand.
STEPHEN MCDONELL: China has two types of churches, officially registered and so-called underground or house churches.
The latter have been caught up in a recent crackdown, following the spectacularly unsuccessful internet campaign to prompt a Middle-East style protest movement here.
But the failure of this campaign hasn’t stopped the authorities from targeting groups which can organise beyond the Communist Party’s reach, including house churches.
We discovered how seriously the Government is taking this when we tried to make contact with underground churchgoers in Zhejiang Province for tonight’s Foreign Correspondent.
From the moment we arrived in the South East we were followed by plain clothes agents.
After five days of being tailed we decided to just go up to them and ask why they were following us.
(Sound of confrontation with Chinese agents)
These men weren’t keen on answering this or any other questions.
(Sound of shouting and pushing)
In the foyer of a five-star hotel, staff looked on as these security police pushed us around and tried to break our camera while we tried to keep filming them.
But despite this attention from the authorities we did manage to speak to local house church leader Zheng Datong.
(Sound of Zheng Datong speaking)
He told us that Christianity propagates the existence of God, charity, love, virtue and is against corruption. So, Pastor Zheng says, it’s possible that corrupt officials are threatened by it.
He went on to say that tensions between Christians and the Communist Party are because of misunderstandings and that actually the two groups have much in common.
(Sound of Zheng Datong speaking)
“For example love between people, charity, caring about others apart from yourself. I think that the Chinese Government also likes and advocates these ideas,” Pastor Zheng said.
But there are at least 10 underground church leaders under house arrest today and this conflict is not going away.
This is Stephen McDonell in Zhejiang Province for AM
PETER CAVE: And there’ll be more on that story on Foreign Correspondent tonight on ABC1 at 8pm.

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