07/21/2008, 00.00
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For Chinese Christians 2008 a difficult year because of the Olympics

Repression against house churches is up. One religious leader is removed from Beijing and confined for three months in a township to prevent him from meeting foreigners. In the meantime, modern churches are built as showcases for foreign tourists.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The police has taken Zhang Mingxuan, a Beijing-based Protestant clergyman and his ailing wife, Xie Fenglanto, to Yanjiao, a township in nearby Hebei county, at least for the duration of the Olympic Games.

Reverend Zhang, head of the Chinese House Church Alliance, told the South China Morning Post that the police “don't want me to stay in Beijing during the Olympics, because they don't want me to meet foreigners.”

He explained that plain-clothes officers raided a guesthouse they had been staying in at around 6pm on Friday and whisked them off to Hebei.

During the week Rev Zhang and his wife had brushed off repeated “requests” by police from various districts to leave Beijing.

Last Tuesday, after being kept at Beijing's Xiaotangshan government building for hours, Mr Zhang managed to take his wife to a hospital for medical treatment.

“In hospital, the police officers said they could give us 5,000 yuan [US$ 800] if we left Beijing for three months," he said. “But my wife refused because she needs to see a doctor very often.”

He has had to change house eight this year because of threats by police against owners or against him personally.

Last month Zhang was held under house arrest for a day for meeting US Congressmen Frank Wolf and Christopher Smith. He was also detained for 31 hours as he and his interpreter were on their way to meet Bastiaan Belder, from the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee.

On 5 July his house church was shut down and seized despite promises by the police that it could remain in operation for his group as long as he no longer attended it.

Many Chinese Protestants prefer underground Churches and meeting in homes and private locations (home churches) in lieu of state-controlled organisations.

As the Olympic Games approach the police has intensified its persecution of ‘underground’ believers, shutting down meeting places and threatening worshippers.

At the same the harshness against underground Churches has come with greater leeway for official (registered) Churches.

Two new churches have been built for the first time since 1949; one, the Haidian Christian Church in Zhongguancun, in Beijing (see photo), is destined to be an avant-garde showcase for tourists, evidence of religious freedom in the country.

The government has also decided to give 50,000 yuan to each officially sanctioned Catholic church to help them upgrade their facilities.

A number of Buddhist and Taoist temples have also received funds for a facelift.

And for the Olympics a religious centre will be up and running in the athlete's village to serve athletes.

Two other, much bigger, Beijing house churches, each with about 1,000 followers, were recently closed down, Christian dissident and writer Yu Jie said. And many underground church members have reportedly been harassed, arrested or sent to re-education through labour camps.

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