12/27/2003, 00.00
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Christmas prayer prohibited by police

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – On Christmas Eve a prayer gathering was stopped and broken up by police in Henan. The pastor leading the meeting was arrested. The news was released by Hong Kong's Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy. Police arrived as 80 Protestant Christians were praying in a private home. Agents confiscated 11 bibles and arrested Reverend Li Shansong, accused of organizing the "illegal gathering". He was released after 8 hours of questioning.   

China allows for religious freedom, but prohibits gatherings and prayer that occur in locales that are not registered and controlled by the government and nationalistic associations.  In recent years, the increase in conversions among Catholic and Protestant communities has caused so-called "house churches" to multiply.  

A police officer in Henan criticized Christians who had been stopped for not attending services of the official (registered) church. "To organize private meetings is prohibited and police have the right to breakup such gatherings of faithful," he said.

Another mystery for police is the fascination that many young people have for Christianity. 

During this period young university students, inspired by the Christmas atmosphere, gathered in official and unofficial communities. Many were moved by curiosity, others by a deep search for religion, leading them to faith and baptism.

Meanwhile, in the province of Hunan, Public Safety authorities placed schools under close vigilance in order to prevent students from engaging in "illegal religious activities".

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