Religion

Police round up 27 Christians

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 May, 2011, 12:00am

Beijing police yesterday rounded up 27 Christians who were trying to hold a Sunday service at a public plaza, in the seventh week of a crackdown against one of the mainland's most influential unofficial churches, according to a church leader.

Members of the Shouwang church have been trying to meet outdoors in the Zhongguancun commercial area every Sunday since April 10, after its former landlord gave in to government pressure to evict them from their usual place of worship.

Among those taken away by police were an elderly woman in her 80s and a two-year-old child, said a church member, who declined to be named for fear of reprisals. Two were released by yesterday afternoon.

Scores of church members, many detained on previous Sundays, were placed under house arrest over the weekend.

The church's six leaders have been confined to their homes for more than a month. Church leaders said police seemed to be confining more congregation members at home to prevent them from going out to worship. When they tried to worship outdoors for the first time, police detained 169 of them and the second time nearly 50 were taken away.

'The spiritual warfare has not ended, but has moved to the front doors of many brothers and sisters ... we believe God is training us in different ways for the benefit of his Church,' the church said in a recent newsletter.

Observers fear that the current impasse will end in an all-out crackdown, with the possibility of the church being banned and its leaders jailed. Shouwang, meaning 'to keep watch', insists that it will not go back indoors unless the authorities give it official permission to worship freely on its own property - which it bought for 27 million yuan (HK$32 million) in 2009. Officials have not allowed it to move into the 1,500-square-metre office space.

Phone calls to the Beijing Public Security Bureau went unanswered yesterday.

Officially atheist, the central government permits worship only in state-sanctioned churches, although scholars say around 50 million Christians continue to worship in unregistered 'house' churches.