China Detains Church Members at Easter Services

The New York Times  By ANDREW JACOBS   Published: April 24, 2011
BEIJING — The authorities stepped up a three-week campaign against an underground Christian church on Sunday, detaining hundreds of congregants in their homes and taking at least 36 others into custody after they tried to hold Easter services in a public square, church members and officials said.

The church, Shouwang, or Lighthouse, an evangelical Protestant congregation that was evicted from its rented quarters earlier this month, has been at loggerheads with the government since announcing plans to gather outdoors rather than disband or return to worshiping in private homes. The authorities have repeatedly stymied Shouwang’s efforts to lease or buy space for its 1,000-member congregation, one of the largest and most prominent so-called house churches in the capital.
The Chinese Communist Party tightly manages religious activity, requiring the faithful to join state-run churches, mosques or Buddhist temples. Until the most recent crackdown on Shouwang and a handful of other unregistered big-city churches, such congregations had enjoyed relatively wide latitude from religious authorities.
Founded 18-years ago in a private home, Shouwang insists that it has no political agenda and only seeks government forbearance that would allow it to occupy the $4 million space it bought in 2009. Church leaders say the owner of the space, under pressure from the authorities, has refused to hand over the keys. Last week, a foreign ministry spokesman defended the government’s stance, saying Shouwang had “no legal basis” to operate.
Most of those seized on Sunday morning were taken away in buses after they showed up at the plaza, which is not far from several of the country’s top universities. A CNN crew said they were briefly detained and had their credentials confiscated before being turned away by the police.
Several church members, all of whom requested anonymity for fear of further provoking the authorities, say they were confined to their homes by security agents, some as early as Thursday, in an effort to keep them from joining Easter services. ChinaAid, a Christian advocacy group based in the United States, put the number of those under temporary house arrest at 500, although that figure could not be immediately verified.
On Sunday night, Shouwang’s Web site was blocked and its chief pastor, Jin Tianming, could not be reached by phone. In an e-mail circulated last week, church leaders asked parishioners to make their way to the elevated walkway where services were supposed to take place even though they would probably be intercepted by the police.
The letter took note of the upcoming Easter holiday and likened the congregation’s struggle to the tribulations endured by Jesus Christ before his crucifixion.
“We pray especially for those brothers and sisters who in the past week or two have already been forced to move or leave their jobs,” it said. “We ask God to remember the price they have paid for holding on to their faith and ask him to take care of their families and their daily life needs.”

China Aid Contacts
Rachel Ritchie, English Media Director
Cell: (432) 553-1080 | Office: 1+ (888) 889-7757 | Other: (432) 689-6985
Email: [email protected]

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