11/23/2009, 00.00
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Six Protestant clergymen arrested in Shanghai, Biblical theme park planned in Liaoning

Police detain the leaders of a Protestant church in Wanbang to prevent open air religious function. Members of the congregation hold the service anyway. Meanwhile, a Hong Kong businessman plans a Biblical theme park.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The latest adventure of Leung Moon-lam, owner of a Hong Kong-based business empire who fled the mainland in the early 1970s, is a theme park combining the Bible and Chinese culture. Yet, religious repression in the mainland continues unabated. In Shanghai, police detained six Christian leaders from a banned underground church in an apparent bid to stop an “unauthorised” outdoor service yesterday.

Leoung’s theme park should be built in Liaoning province. A Christian convert in 1996, the entrepreneur wants to build ‘Harmony World’ in which Christianity and Chinese traditional culture are combined. Other Christian entrepreneurs are involved in the 2.3 km2 project salted to go up in Tieling.

Given the amount of money involved, the central government might actually be interested. However, it would hardly be a sign of openness towards religion. Yesterday’s raid in Shanghai shows that Beijing’s official policy towards religion is the same.

According to Cui Quan, senior pastor at the Shanghai Wanbang Church, police detained six Christian clergymen for interrogation but in fact, the real purpose was to prevent a public function planned for the afternoon.

The unregistered church, which has about 1,000 members, was closed by the local district Civil Affairs Bureau two weeks ago because it deemed its activities illegal. The congregation still planned to meet at the park but the authorities detained the clergymen to block the service.

"We have nothing to fear, but we feel the religious environment in China has got a lot worse recently," Rev Cui Quan said. “For those of us who are firm in our beliefs, our faith will only grow stronger, but for those who are not so strong, this is a huge blow."

After the arrest, some 500 people managed to worship there yesterday morning anyway.

The church has launched an official complaint against its closure, arguing that freedom of assembly and religion are protected under the constitution.

This is not the first time the Wanbang church has been targeted by the authorities. In February, police and State Administration for Religious Affairs officials ordered it to cancel a seminar, and when the church defied the order, the church's landlord was pressured to terminate the rental agreement.

This month, Beijing-based Shouwang Church, with about 700 members, was forced to worship at a park in a snowstorm after being evicted from its rented premises.

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