Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - About 200 Christians were arrested by police in Haidian district (north of Beijing), for having gathered yesterday in a public square for Sunday service. It 's the largest operation against Christians in recent years. Christians fear the crackdown to prevent a jasmine revolution in China, has now extended to religious groups.
The faithful belong to the Protestant Church Shouwang, one of the largest house churches (not recognized) in the country with over 1000 members. Have recently been expelled from the premises of a restaurant where they had held meetings: the police forced the restaurant owner to evict the faithful. Hundreds of police patrolled the Zhongguancun area since morning and detained the faithful as they arrived to attend the church service set for 8:30 am, loading them onto waiting buses. The street liturgy was no secret: it was announced by the faithful on the Internet.
Since the evening of 9 April, the police also put under house arrest at least five pastors of the community. Among them, Pastor Jin Tianming explains that the police have asked many of those arrested not to attend the church of Shouwang. Last night only 10 people were released.
The police also detained a photographer from the New York Times, later released. Many citizens complain that the authorities turned off the mobile phone communications in the area to delay news of the arrests, which, however, immediately spread over the Internet.
"We have not violated the law - Jin protests - and there is no reason for government interference." In recent years the 18-year-old church had been harassed by the authorities and forced to move more than 20 times, but had never had so many worshippers taken away by police. The last time the church was kicked out of its place of worship, in November 2009, the church held its Sunday services in a park two weeks in a row. Jin explains that the Church had bought 1,500 square meters of office space in a commercial building for 27 million Yuan. But the owner refused to give them the keys, under pressure from the authorities, though the price has been paid. The Church has sought approval since 2006 and received no answer.
There are tens of millions of Protestant Christians in the country, mostly followers of unregistered house churches. Beijing demands that all the faithful adhere to the Three-Self Movement (Protestant all controlled by the Communist Party) but there are only 20 million Christians in the state Church, compared with more than 50 million members (though other sources say that more than 100 million) members of unofficial churches.
The episode comes a week after the arrest of the famous artist Ai Weiwei, taken by police on April 3 and who has since disappeared, his whereabouts unknown even to family members.
Since mid-February Beijing has been imposing the worst persecution since 1998, with arrests and sentencing to prison, for fear that protests could break out similar to the Jasmine Revolution taking place in North Africa and the Middle East. So far they have systematically cracked down on hundreds of rights activists and dissidents, but not religious groups. But it is true that many of those arrested were Christians. It is a known fact that among activists and dissidents a strong religious research often results in their conversion to Christianity.