Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Police yesterday arrested 20 more members of the Christian Shouwang church, when they tried to pray together in an outdoor square in Beijing. There is an ongoing harsh repression against members of the 'house' churches in the country, with arrests of leaders and persecution against the followers.
Shouwang's faithful have gathered in the public square to pray every Sunday, since April 10, after the authorities threw them out of rented premises where they had been meeting. In recent years, on other occasions the police moved them on from premises and believers had been forced to pray on the streets. This time the police every Sunday, including Easter, have arrested all those who pray in the streets, including children as young as a few years old and the elderly over 70 years.
Pastor Jin Tianming, founder of the church, who has been under house arrest for nine weeks, says the police have detained hundreds of them. Before June 4, the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, dozens of the faithful were summoned by police and threatened or placed under house arrest for several days to avoid protests and public prayers.
Police persecution has also targeted the personal lives of some followers, with threats of losing their jobs, and it is getting results. Jin said that four leaders of the church, including a pastor and two deacons, have distanced themselves from the decision to meet to pray in the streets. In a letter to the faithful, Jin said that "our colleague’s departure has shaken the whole Church, like an earthquake." But he also insisted that the Church, which has about 1,000 followers and is one of the biggest "house" churches, remain firm.
The Church of Shouwang in 2009 also acquired a building of 1,500 square feet for its activities, but the authorities have blocked its being used.
The authorities are increasingly targeting house churches, to curb their activities and assimilate them into the Three-Self Movement, which is controlled by the Communist Party. Last week, the China Aid Association denounced the "administrative" arrest of pastor Enhao Shi, Vice President of Chinese House Church Alliance, held for 12 days at the Suqian prison (Jiangsu).
Even Meiling Chang, also a follower of the CHCA, was sent to 12 days of administrative detention imposed without trial.
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.
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