10/01/2010, 00.00
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“Official” Changchunli Church attacked in Ji’nan

The authorities are now targeting Christian communities that belong to the Three Self-Patriotic Movement, the government body in charge of Protestant Churches, in order to steel their land, and resell to business interests. Thus, even religious freedom “government-style” takes a backseat.
Ji’nan (AsiaNews) – The Chinese government has launched a brutal attack against the members of the “official” Changchunli Church in Ji’nan, Shandong, ChinaAid reports. About 200 people, wearing helmets and police uniforms, on 23 September attacked a group of tents used by Church members in Wanda Square, where a new church is under construction.

During the attack, 16 elderly people suffered serious injuries, including one left blind in one eye. Calling police for help did not produce the desired result. Not only did police respond slowly, but once they were at the scene of the incident, they just stood by.

Later that day, about 300 church members went to the municipal government building to stage a protest and demand justice.

The problems of the Changchunli Church community began on 7 July 2008, when the director and the deputy director of the Ji'nan Municipal Bureau for Ethnic and Religious Affairs used their power to force the presidents of the Ji'nan Christian Council and the Municipal Christian Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee to accept a deal.

The Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) is a government body that controls Protestant Christians. It was set up soon after Mao’s takeover of China to bring Chinese Protestants under government control. Foreign as well as Chinese missionaries were expelled as a result.

According to the latest official figures, some 10 million Chinese are members of TSPM-affiliated Churches. So-called ‘house Churches’, which exist unofficially and are not registered with the authorities, have an estimated membership of 50 million and more.

As the members of the Changchunli Church found out, TSPM Membership is no guarantee against the authorities. In this particular case, local authorities forced Christian leaders to sign an agreement under duress. What is more, the latter violates the law in at least two respects. Not only are the authorities not financially compensating the Church for the material loss (demolished building), but they are also short-changing it of some 800 m2 taken from the original property of 1,129 m2. The Changchunli Church is thus left with only 300 m2. How the other 800 m2 will be used is not known. What is known is that they have become a building site.

For the Changchunli Church community, the agreement has meant no more religious services since 8 June 2009. Their pastor has been recalled, the religious activities carried out by their Church have stopped, and its management board is no longer meeting because its members were sent away.

Members of the Church have rejected the agreement; instead, they are demanding justice from the local and central government.

Since nothing has been done, and this despite letters sent to the State Council, the Church members have been camping in Wanda Square, near the building site.

They were initially told that a new church was under construction. When they protested, they were told that an underground parking was being built.

The issue is likely to remain unresolved for quite time, if ever. However, it is clear that some officials in the Religious Affairs Bureau have promoted their own interests rather than those of the Church.

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