03/23/2006, 00.00
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More violence against Protestant Christians

There is no let-up in the persecution of unofficial Christians across China. Xinjiang and Shanxi have been followed by new arrests and violence in Hunan and Hebei.

Xiantao (AsiaNews/CAA) – Chinese police arrested a Protestant pastor, Lian Changnian, on 20 March, while he was leading a bible study in a house church in Xintao, Hubei. He was arrested in front of around 100 worshippers and was taken to a prison in the city, where he is still detained. This was revealed by the China Aid Association (CAA), a US-based non-governmental organization lobbying for religious freedom in China.

The same organisation said another 15 Protestant house church leaders are also in prison; they were arrested on 13 March in Wen County in Henan. Among them is a 15-year-old Evangelist.

After arresting them, police beat them with electric batons, and one of the 15, Pastor Li Gongshe, had to be taken to Mengzhou hospital for urgent treatment of a broken rib that was preventing him from breathing. The pastor is still in hospital, and there is no news of six of the rest. The accusation against them all is: "membership of an illegal evil cult".

Two renowned Chinese laywers, have accepted to take the case: Zhang is director of the Jingding law firm in Beijing and Fan is professor of Constitutional Law at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Last month, a campaign targeted unofficial churches in Xinjiang, leading to the arrest of dozens of Christian leaders. On Monday, another two people were arrested in Shanxi, while another three pastors were apprehended at the beginning of March.

Beijing allows the practice of Protestant Christianity only within the Movement of the Three Autonomies (MTA), born in 1950 after Mao seized power and the expulsion of foreign missionaries and church leaders, including Chinese ones.

Official statistics reveal that there are 10 million official Protestants in China, all belonging to the MTA. Unofficial Protestants, who meet in unregistered "house churches", are estimated to reach more than 50 million.

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