12/11/2007, 00.00
CHINA
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About 270 Christian leaders are arrested in Shandong for reading Bible together

The underground Protestant clergymen had gathered in Linyi’s Hedeng district where police, coming from 12 different towns, arrested them. About 150 are still in prison. A secret campaign to “normalise” underground Protestant Churches is still underway.

Linyi (AsiaNews) – Police in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong have arrested 270 Protestant pastors from house Churches for taking part in an “illegal religious gathering” in the district of Hedeng near the city of Linyi. At present about 150 Christians are still in a state prison, this according to a US-based NGO, the China Aid Association (CAA), which lobbies for freedom of worship in China.

The arrests took place last Friday at around 1.30 pm local time. The Protestant clergymen had met to study the Bible when about 50 policemen from 12 different towns stormed the meeting place, blindfolded and handcuffed them two-by-two, and then taken them to a local police station for questioning.

According to Reverend Li, an eyewitness, the raid was “violence and swift.” Police arrived in armoured trucks and prevented anyone from leaving the area. About 120 Christians were eventually released after paying 300 yuan (US$ 40) as an “interrogation tax.”

Beijing allows evangelical Christianity to exist in China but only within the Three Self-Patriotic Movement, an organisation set up in 1950 soon after Mao’s takeover, followed by the expulsion of foreign missionaries and the incarceration of Chinese religious leaders.

Official Churches have about 10 million members within the Three Self-Patriotic Movement.

According to a secret document written by the Communist Party in Hubei Province, which was leaked to the West last November, a nationwide campaign is underway to “normalise” underground Protestant Churches by giving them two options: either join the Three Self-Patriotic Movement—the set of government-sanctioned patriotic Christian organisations—or be suppressed.

Either way, the campaign is in clear violation of United Nations resolutions on religious freedom which ban any distinction between lawful (government-controlled) and unlawful religions activities.

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