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Police detain house church group

Harassment shows paranoia of authorities over religion, rights group says

Mike MacLachlan, London

April 19, 2011

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Two pastors of a Beijing house church were detained briefly at the weekend and 30 members of the congregation were detained when they tried to hold an outdoor service on Sunday, according to the US-based rights group ChinaAid.

Senior pastor Jin Tianming and pastor Li Xiaobai of the Shouwang Church were arrested on Saturday evening but Li was released the same night and Jin was returned home early Sunday morning.

Many members of the congregation were restricted to their homes on Sunday to prevent them attending the service. Of those who did attend, at least 30 were detained. But by yesterday evening all had been released

The service was held on the same site at Zhongguancun, a suburb of Beijing, where the congregation gathered on April 10. Then 169 worshippers were forced on to buses and taken away for questioning.

According to the British-based rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the church has had nowhere to meet since the landlord of the building it had used bowed to government pressure to prevent the congregation worshipping there.

A statement on the church’s Facebook page says: “Meeting outdoors is not an attempt to quarrel with the government.” For several years, the church has conducted its activities openly, but an application for government registration in 2006 was rejected.

Like many other house churches in China, Shouwang operates in a legal grey area, CSW said yesterday. “The law protects “normal” religious activities, but those who choose to practise their religion outside the officially sanctioned state bodies are vulnerable to accusations of illegal activity,” it added.

CSW condemned the police action. “The continued harassment of Shouwang Church is indicative of the Chinese government’s paranoia regarding religion,” said advocacy director Andrew Johnston.

“CSW calls upon the Chinese government to adhere to the guarantees awarded to its citizens in the Chinese constitution, which allows for freedom of religion.”

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