05/11/2010, 00.00
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Protestant clergyman arrested in Guangzhou

Police arrest Rev Wang Dao, a veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen protest. Police also detain members of his congregation who met in a park to pray. The authorities have targeted his church because real estate developers are interested in its location. This crackdown seems to herald more anti-Christian repression.
Guangzhou (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Police in Guangzhou (southern China) on Saturday arrested a clergyman from an underground home church; it also stopped a religious service held in a public park. Such actions have raised concerns that they might herald a new of crackdown against religious groups that do not accept to be under state control.

Police took Rev Wang Dao from his home for questioning. Police raided the couple's home in the afternoon, taking away a computer, Wang's travel documents and bankcards. She said they had also detained her on Saturday night, and that he was still in police custody.

“When they released me, they handed me a notification of the criminal detention of my husband," she said. The notification said Wang had been charged with "gathering a crowd to disrupt social order".

"I am rather worried because criminal detention is quite a serious measure," she said.

Wang was involved in the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy movement. At the time, he was a student and known as Wang Tongjiang. He was released after a year in prison and then assumed the name Wang Dao.

Wang's wife said all this was not enough. He was summoned several times in the past few months and was told to leave the city. In fact, "They said it's even better if you leave the country."

Last Sunday, police also arrested dozens of Christians from Rev Wang’s Liangren congregation. They were meeting in a park to pray because police had closed down its church, forcing them to hold their services outdoor.

Some believe that the reason for the crackdown lies in real estate speculators who are interested in the land where the church is located.

In an open letter dated 3 May, the pastor appealed for support from other Christian Churches, saying his Church had become a target for police investigation after it became actively involved in aid work in the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake in 2008.  

"The room for survival for Chinese house churches is shrinking," Wang wrote.

Government repression appears to be increasing. Last November, the Shouwang Church in Beijing was shut down; a few days later, the same happened to Shanghai’s Wanbang Church.

Beijing has allowed Protestant Christianity to exist but only within the framework of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) , which Communist authorities set up in 1950 soon after Mao took power and had missionary and Church leaders, including those born in China, expelled.

Officially, the TSPM has ten million members. Unofficial, underground home Churches have an estimated 50 million members.

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