08/01/2006, 00.00
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Zhejiang: police arrest Christians after wrecking their church

Thousands of police clashed with thousands of believers. The government wants to build a commercial centre on the church land.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – Two Protestant Christians are in police custody after resisting the destruction of their church in Zhejiang village with thousands of other underground believers.

The incident took place on 29 July. The China Aid Association (CAA) said thousands of anti-riot and military police and government workers arrived at the church of Cheluwan (Xiaoshan district, Hanzhou, Zhejiang) at 1:30 p.m. Resorting to force, they started to evict Protestants who had gathered to stop the destruction the building, which had allegedly been built without permission. Shortly afterwards, they destroyed the church completely.

Eyewitnesses reported that the police used electric shock batons and anti-riot shields to disperse the Christians. Several hundred Christians were beaten and some were arrested.

A representative of Hanzhou government said only two Protestants were arrested and denied that some people had been beaten before and during the demolition. The district government of Xiaoshan defended the operation of the forces of order because – it claimed – the building was "illegal" and did not have government permission.

In reality, according to the Christians of Cheluwan, the church had been built on private land bought by a Christian couple. For a long time, the community submitted requests for permission to build the church but the government never gave the green light, although all the papers were in order. The Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said the church had already been built years ago but it was rebuilt this year because it suffered severe damage in a typhoon in 2005.

The New Regulations on Religions (enacted in March 2005) allow unrecognized communities to ask for permission to build a place of worship and stipulate that the authorities must reply within three months.

The village committee has defended itself by saying that the building was located on land set aside for the "new socialist countryside", a rural development project launched by the Premier, Wen Jiabao, in March this year. In reality, the land on which the church was built has been conceded by the government for the construction of a commercial centre.

It is not the first time that religious buildings have been seized illegally to be used in construction and building development projects. Last year, some sisters in Xian were beaten for defending a school they owned, which had been sold by the government for commercial use. In December, a group of priests of Taiyuan met the same fate in Tianjin for trying to save diocesan property seized by local building development firms.

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