Over 30 Christians detained as church clampdown continues
More than 30 Christians from one of the mainland's most influential unofficial churches were detained and dozens were confined to their homes yesterday, after they tried to worship outdoors in defiance of government orders amid a crackdown that has continued for four Sundays.
At least 31 members of Shouwang Church were taken away near its proposed place of worship amid a heavy police presence in Beijing's commercial Zhongguancun area, said Christians who declined to be named. The church's leaders - three pastors and three elders - remained under house arrest while many congregation members were prevented from leaving home.
The church's pastor, Jin Tianming, has been confined at home since April 9, the eve of the church's first attempted outdoor service. He could not be reached by phone yesterday.
Last week, he said many church members who had been detained on previous Sundays were stopped by police from going out on subsequent Sundays. Others were told by local police to sign statements promising not to worship outdoors again.
Three journalists from Al-Jazeera English who were trying to cover the event had been stopped by police outside the building where the service was supposed to take place, correspondent Melissa Chan said. They were required to hand over their videotape before being released.
The congregation has tried to worship on the podium terrace of a commercial building for the past four Sundays. Police detained 169 worshippers the first time, nearly 50 the second time and 36 on Sunday last week. Most were released within 24 hours in the first weeks, but last week some were held for 48 hours.
The church, which has nearly 1,000 members, lost its previous place of worship early last month after official pressure forced its landlord to evict it from a spacious film studio. Officials also blocked the congregation from moving into an office space the church had bought for 27 million yuan (HK$32 million).
The church, which has been evicted more than 20 times since 1993, had wanted the authorities to give it formal approval to worship freely on its own property without further harassment. It has tried to register with the government, but the state, which controls religious affairs, has repeatedly refused to give it authorisation.
Shouwang, which means 'to keep watch', was criticised last week by the Global Times for 'politicising' religious issues. In response, the church issued an online statement insisting that it had no political agenda and would go back indoors as long as it has 'a guaranteed meeting place'.
'Any speculation about the church having political motivation can easily be quashed,' it said.