04/01/2011, 00.00
CHINA
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Beijing and Guangzhou attack underground Churches

In the two metropolises, underground Christian communities face new challenges. In addition to the ever-present threat of violence, the authorities now use administrative rules and legal technicalities to shut down Churches. The faithful, however, are prepared to pray even in snow-covered parks.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Underground Chinese Christians are increasingly the target of the authorities. Recently, one of the largest home Church has been shut down. Another one in Guangzhou has been forced to stop its activities, whilst a third one has been expelled from the premises it had rented. Although less violent as in the past, such actions shows how the central government is pursuing relentlessly and more effectively its policy of religious repression.

The Beijing-based Shouwang Church, with about 800 members, now has nowhere to worship after Sunday as its landlord has come under pressure to stop renting it a spacious film studio to host its services, Rev Jin Tianming said.

It is not the first time that this Church has been under pressure to stop meeting. It has been evicted from rented premises many times in the past and the authorities have used administrative measures, such as allegations that it breached fire regulations, to put pressure on the Church to close.

The faithful however plan to hang tight. To each act of persecution, they respond peacefully. The last time they were kicked out from their place of worship, in November 2009, they held Sunday worship outdoors, when the Church was forced to hold services in a park in a snowstorm.

Under Chinese law, unauthorised meetings are illegal, but "We don't have a choice," Rev Jin said. "We're willing to face the consequences."

In Guangzhou, things are not much better. Local authorities ordered the Tianyun Church, which has a congregation of about 200, to stop worshipping starting this week.

Another Guangzhou house Church, which has a congregation of 4,000, is also feeling the squeeze after its landlord succumbed to pressure and stopped letting out premises the church had used as an extension to host its bulging congregation. The Rongguili Church owns its main worship venue.

Professor Ying Fuk-tsang, a divinity scholar at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the authorities tend to be anxious about underground churches, which have expanded rapidly and now have large congregations.

"Many rights lawyers and intellectuals [who go to those churches] have criticised the government," he said.

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