Shouwang Church, one of the mainland's most influential unofficial Protestant churches, has taken legal action against Beijing police for preventing its congregation from worshipping for more than a year.
The church's pastor, Jin Tianming, last Friday filed an application for an "administrative review" - a legal step that enables citizens to contest government actions - with the Beijing municipal government. A church elder verified the authenticity of the content of the application, which was posted online.
In the document, Jin accused police of barring the church from moving into a 16,000 sq ft office space it had bought for more than 26 million yuan (HK$32 million) and preventing it from renting another worship venue. He complained that police had illegally confined him and other church leaders at home since April 9 last year - a day before the church attempted to worship outdoors - and harassed many of its worshippers.
Police detained 169 worshippers at that outdoor service and every Sunday since, scores have continued to show up in defiance of the government.
Jin said in the application that members of Shouwang's congregation had been detained more than 1,600 times at 90 police stations, each time for up to 48 hours over the past year and five months. More than 60 people had been forced to move house and quit their jobs under government pressure.
"This is obviously repression of citizens' religious freedom and the church's right to practise its faith," Jin wrote.
A staff member at the Beijing government's legal affairs office said Shouwang's application had been rejected.
Jin could not be contacted yesterday. A church elder, who declined to be named, said Jin was one of six church leaders who had been confined in their homes by police for more than a year. Many other senior church members are barred from leaving home on weekends.
He said the church has refused to give in to official pressure to disband even after four leaders and scores of worshippers left the church, adding that the church split was a "painful wound in its heart".
Additional reporting by Laura Zhou