Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - For the 6th consecutive Sunday, the police have arrested members of the Church of Shouwang who gather to pray outside in a square in the commercial area of Zhongguancun in Beijing. The persecution is increasing and affects the private lives of the faithful, but the repression has begun to attract international attention.
Yesterday the police, deployed in force, arrested 13 followers of Shouwang as soon as they tried to start praying in the square. The first Sunday the police had arrested 169 faithful, the second about 50. Now tens of followers are under house arrest each weekend, and 6 Church leaders have been for over a month.
The congregation had been meeting in rented premises from which police had them removed. Then they started to gather outside in a public way, posting announcements on the Internet, as they did several times in recent years after being driven from premises in a similar way. But the police prevented it.
The Church has sought formal recognition for years and in 2009 even bought a building of 1,500 square feet to meet, but the authorities warned the seller not to go through with the deal, though the price of 27 million Yuan had been paid.
A few days ago the Church of Shouwang reported that 10 followers have lost their jobs after refusing to leave. More than 30 others were chased away from their rented homes, under pressure from the authorities. "If people lose their job or home only because they belong to a certain church .... - Says the statement - [and] if the government is responsible, then there is an abuse of authority and religious persecution. "
The Church of Shouwang has spread rapidly from about 10 followers in 1993 to the current one thousand and this is of concern to authorities. Beijing wants all Protestant communities under the control of the "Three-Self Movement," the interfaith organization controlled by the Communist Party. The underground Christians, however, instead control freedom in matters of religion.
In China there are more unofficial Protestant Christians (80 million) than members of the Three-Self Movement (20 million). Lest the situation get out of the Party’s control, for almost four years now a campaign to eliminate the underground communities or merge them into the official community has been underway (see 16/11/2007: Secret party document wants to “normalise” Chinese Protestants).
Last week the leaders of about 20 underground churches among the most widespread, in an unprecedented protest sent a petition to the Chinese parliament (the National People's Congress, NPC), asking for respect for religious freedom, according to the dictates of the constitution .
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 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 problem has assumed international importance and last week a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, during a press conference, said that the followers of the Church try to gather in an “unlawful manner "and that the police acted" with appropriate measures " but without explaining why gathering peacefully in public to pray is "illegal."