05/09/2011, 00.00
CHINA

More arrests, more persecution for Shouwang underground Christians

by Wang Zhicheng
Yesterday at least 15 people arrested. From April 10, hundreds of Christians arrested because they tried to pray in public, after the government took away the use of their rented premises. The imprisoned faithful are "happy" to pray in prison and "preach the gospel to the guards." The government's religious policy is considered "obsolete" by Chinese academics. Beijing fears a "jasmine revolution", as many activists have converted to Christianity.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - For the fifth week the continuing confrontation between the Shouwang Protestant Christian community and police in the capital. Yesterday, 15 other faithful were arrested because they tried to hold a church service in a public park in the Zhongguancun area.

The community of Shouwang, about 1000 people, is a technically "illegal" community (underground) because not registered. But for years they have asked for recognition from the government, which has blocked them from registering. In addition, the government has continually expelled from the community meeting places: one floor in a building that the community had rented, the room of a restaurant, which the faithful rented every week.

The community of Shouwang decided to hold its prayer services outdoors, in public places until the government decides to grant them registration or a place of worship. Since then, every Sunday, hundreds of faithful congregate in Zhongguancun and were arrested by the police who control the area en masse.

The first Sunday, April 10 last, police arrested 169 faithful, and the following Sunday another 50, more than 30 over the past two weeks, over 15 yesterday. After a few days people are released, but are subject to threats and are in fact placed under house arrest. Even the pastors of the church are under house arrest.

Some of the faithful on release from prison said they were "delighted" to have had the opportunity to pray and sing hymns in their cell, "proclaiming the gospel to the prison guards."

Several scholars think that now the government's religious policy is outdated and that it is time to change it. Beijing allows freedom of worship only in officially registered communities, in registered places and with registered personnel, under the control of the Patriotic Association, the long arm of the party.

In the case of Protestants, Beijing wants all believers belong to the Three-Self Movement, the official organization that gathers all the Protestant churches. But the faithful say that this organization is "too submissive to the Party and not to God." Only 23 million belong to the Protestant Three-Self Movement. More than double (and perhaps up to 80 million) are the faithful who gather in unregistered "house" churches.

The series of arrests of Protestant Christians coincides with a series of arrests of democracy activists and human rights lawyers. Beijing fears that any movement not controlled by the Party could trigger the spark of a "jasmine revolution" similar to the one that is rocking the North Africa and the Middle East. This fear is caused by the fact that many human rights activists have converted to Christianity. The Shouwang community members however, have always insisted that they are only interested in religion and not politics.
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