Police round up pastors, Christians for second time
The government showed no signs of relaxing its grip on unofficial churches over the weekend, as police detained church leaders in Beijing and Shandong and rounded up nearly 50 Christians trying to attend an outdoor service in the capital for the second Sunday in a row.
The move came after police detained 169 worshippers of the Shouwang Protestant Church the previous Sunday when they tried to worship on the podium terrace of a commercial building after being evicted from their usual premises. Official pressure has often forced the landlords of the 18-year-old church to stop letting venues host services.
The recent crackdown on Shouwang, one of the largest house churches on the mainland with nearly 1,000 members, and a few smaller churches prompted fears that a fresh crackdown on unregistered churches was under way.
Yesterday morning, large numbers of police officers were deployed near the building where the Shouwang church planned to worship in the Zhongguancun area, said church members who were in custody. They said police shoved them into buses and took them to different police stations for interrogation. Last night most were still in custody.
'We are accused of gathering illegally,' said one church member, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Pastor Jin Tianming, who was taken away by police on Saturday night and interrogated for nearly 12 hours, said nearly 50 people in his congregation were detained yesterday. Many were among those detained last week.
Pastor Li Xiaobai and his wife were also taken away for a few hours on Saturday night, and Pastor Zhang Xiaofeng had been removed from a restaurant near the planned place of worship yesterday morning, church members said. Jin and Li remained under house arrest.
Beijing police refused to make any comment.
One of the church elders, who had been confined to his home for more than a week and declined to be named, said he believed fewer church members turned up yesterday than last Sunday because many had been stopped by police from going out, while others were forced to sign statements last week promising not to worship outdoors again.
Jin said earlier that the church had wanted the authorities to give it formal approval to worship freely on its own property. In late 2009, the church bought a 1,500-square-metre office space in a commercial building for 27 million yuan (HK$32 million), but the property's management was pressured by the authorities not to hand it over, even though the church had paid in full.
Meanwhile, police in Shandong detained a pastor and four church members in Zuozhuang town over the weekend. A church leader, Zhang Guangxia, said she was taken away on Saturday night. Pastor Zhang Qingan was detained yesterday morning and three others were detained in the afternoon. They were trying to distribute evangelical pamphlets. All five were released early yesterday evening.