04/05/2008, 00.00
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Thirteen Protestant Christians arrested in Sichuan

The children, who were receiving catechism lessons, were also arrested and then released. Beijing is afraid of the 50 million Protestants who are active outside of the controlled communities. A "cleanup" campaign before the Olympics.

Chengdu (AsiaNews/CAA) - Thirteen Protestant Christians have been arrested by the police of Dazhou (Sichuan) because they were gathering to pray in an unregistered domestic church.  The arrest took place on March 29, and the news was published yesterday by the China Aid Association (CAA).

A spokesman of the CAA explains that according to eyewitnesses, the police broke in while the group of faithful were holding a prayer service.  "Seven believers were taken by a group of people who claimed to be from local religious affairs bureau, community administration and national security. Their names are Wang Qingxiu, Zhou Yanmei, Zhang Mingxiu, Luo Qinghua, Wan Huabi, Wang Zhenping, and a certain Yan".

Two of them, Wan Huabi and Wang Zhenping, have been released following interrogation, but the others are still in prison.

The following day, March 30, 10 Christian women and 4 children were taken by the police while they were in Sunday catechism class.  All of the children were then released, together with two elderly women.  All the others are in prison, and there is no news about the condition of one of them.

According to copies of the arrest warrant, three women  (Wan Huabi, Wang Qingxiu, and Lei Shibi) are accused of "suspicion of using evil cult to obstruct the enforcement of the law".  Another woman, Li Xianbi, aged 59, whose house was used for the Sunday catechism class, has been sentenced to five days of detention for "illegal gathering for evil cult activities".

In China, worship is allowed only for registered religions, and only in places and with personnel registered with the religious affairs office, within the Movement of the Three Autonomies (which includes all of the Protestant denominations).  Every unregistered - and uncontrolled - meeting is considered delinquent activity.  Most Protestant Christians - about 50 million - refuse to join the registered communities.  Since last year, and in view of the Olympics, Beijing has launched a national "cleanup" campaign to dismantle the illegal Protestant communities.

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