Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The faithful of the Protestant Shouwang Church yesterday gathered to pray in the streets of the Zhongguancun shopping area of Beijing, and the police arrested them. For the seventh consecutive Sunday.
Among those arrested are a woman over 80 years and a 2 year old, according to eyewitnesses. These two were released in the afternoon, but many others faithful remain in prison.
In recent weeks, police have arrested hundreds of faithful, the first Sunday April 10 a total of 169, and 50 over the second, and then every Sunday. Typically, they are placed under house arrest for the weekend to prevent them from meeting to pray. Six leaders of the Church have also been under house arrest, for over a month and a half.
From April 10 the faithful have been gathering in the streets Sunday after the authorities evicted them from their rented premises. The Church has sought approval for years, and in 2009 bought a building of 1,500 square meters for its activities, but the authorities prevented them from ever using it. In recent years the police have repeatedly driven the Church from premises for rent and each time the faithful have prayed outside until they found another place.
This time however, police is acting with extreme hardness and analysts fear that if the confrontation continues, the authorities will ban the Church and imprison its leaders. But the faithful have been saying that they will continue to meet in public, until they have another place to worship.
The Shouwang Church is one of the largest "house" churches with over a thousand followers, where persecution is even harsher. Beijing demands that all Protestants adhere to the "Three-Self Movement," an interfaith body controlled by the Communist Party. The underground Christians, however, reject this control and demand freedom in religious matters.
In China there are more unofficial Protestant Christians (80 million) than members of the Movement of the Three-Self (20 million). Lest the situation get out of control the Party, has been waging a campaign over the past four years to eliminate the underground communities or merge them into their official structures.
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.
In recent weeks the "problem" of Shouwang has also attracted international reactions. But Beijing appears to proceed calmly along the road to total repression, without ever explaining why praying peacefully in public is illegal.