10/05/2005, 00.00
china

Henan, authorities arrest Christian evangelist and his father

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Police in central China's Henan province have arrested a "house church" evangelist and his pastor father, a US-based religious rights group said on Wednesday.

Ma Shulei was detained last month in Mianchi county, Sanmenxia city, along with his 58-year-old father, Ma Yinzhou, the Texas-based China Aid Association said in a statement.

The son, who graduated from a Chinese seminary in Myanmar in 2002 and had been working as a full-time evangelist in southwest China's Yunnan province, returned home to Henan to visit his father on September 26. Someone in the village informed the police who, upon not finding the son at home, arrested the father and forced him to reveal his son's whereabouts, the group said. To save his father, Ma Shulei turned himself in on Sunday. However, his father was not released and both are now in custody.

Local government, police and religious affairs officials could not be reached for comment. In 2002, Ma Shulei and his father were detained in Beijing for more than 40 days after a church leaders meeting was raided by police.

China allows Christians to worship only in state-approved and strictly monitored churches. Millions however prefer to attend unregistered "underground" or "house" churches. "House" churches, or "underground" churches, are those that are not registered with the government and refuse to submit to meddling by officials.

According to Shangai government Commission for ethnic and religious matters, there are more than 10 million Christians in the country. The unofficial statistics are very different. According to some Protestant organisations, in China there are 80 million Christians.

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