07/11/2007, 00.00
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Beijing expels 100 Christian missionaries in three months in secret campaign

The government wants to throw out anyone undertaking missionary activities in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympic Games. Teachers of English and humanitarian workers from the United States, Canada and other countries, who had been there for more than 15 years, have been deported. It is the most extensive operation since 1954.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China has expelled or deported more than 100 missionaries between April and June, especially from the United States , South Korea, Singapore, Canada, Australia, and Israel. The China Aid Association said a “mass campaign of expulsion of foreign Christians is under way, before the Beijing Olympics in August 2008.”

The CCA claimed that the expulsions were carried out especially in Beijing and in the regions of Xinjiang, Tibet and Shandong. In Xinjiang alone, over 60 foreign religious workers were expelled, some of whom had been there for 15-18 years. At least 15 Christian couples from the United States and other countries were expelled from Beijing in the month of May. On 31 May, in Linyi (Shandong), an Israeli citizen and a US citizen were arrested for taking part in a prayer meeting with 70 house church leaders. In Beijing, on 1 July, three Christians from the United States were arrested and forced to leave the country without even being able to contact their embassy.

China's Foreign Ministry did not make any comments yesterday. Susan Stevenson, a spokeswoman for the US Embassy, admitted that the embassy had "heard some reports of deportations," but gave no details.

Christian groups from around the world say they plan to send thousands of volunteers to evangelise China, taking advantage of the Olympics to get around the usual checks. Evangelical groups have already taken similar advantage of the Olympics in Athens, Sydney and Atlanta for their missionary work.

The Chinese government expects to control religion and wants all related activities to take place within the framework of official religious organisations controlled by the Communist Party. Any autonomous religious activity is punishable by fines and imprisonment. But tens of thousands of Chinese Christians anyhow undertake missionary activities, as do many foreign citizens who work as English teachers, humanitarian workers and businessmen.

The CAA has said that the current campaign is the largest expulsion drive of missionaries since 1954, when the Chinese government, which came to power in 1949, expelled all foreign religious workers.

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