By Peter Simpson, Voice of America Correspondent in Beijing, special to BosNewsLife
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)– Police deployed in large numbers early Sunday, April 24, in northwest Beijing, where the independent Shouwang Church planned to hold an outdoor service to mark the most important day of the Christian calendar.
Church members say up to 40 congregants were rounded up to prevent them from reaching a park close to their former church building, which has been shut down by the authorities.
A Voice of America network reporter saw worshipers driven away in buses in the mass police operation. Police prevented foreign journalists from getting close. Shouwang church member Kathy said many members of the congregation are facing persecution from the authorities and were prevented from attending the service.
“Around 40 were taken away… One of the deacons returned to his home last Friday afternoon and the police came to ask him if he planned to attend the Easter Sunday service. He said yes, so the police said from this moment, you cannot leave this house. I spoke to him an hour ago, and he was still not able to leave the house,” said Kathy, who identified herself only with her first name.
Worshippers have been detained in similar scenes since early April.
Kathy said many have lost their jobs and been evicted from their homes because their landlords and bosses are also coming under pressure from security officials.
Authorities evicted Shouwang from its previous place of worship, a rented office space, in November and blocked the congregation of about 1,000 people from entering new premises purchased with church funds.
Less than one kilometer away from the planned open air service, the scene was very different.
Hundreds of Chinese gathered for Easter morning worship at the state-sanctioned Haidian Christian Church.
There, families and youngsters in fancy-dress rabbit ears gave out eggs, sung hymns, rang church bells and prayed.
About 15 million Protestants and five million Catholics worship at official churches in China, according to recent official data.
But at least an estimated 50 million others are believed to pray at so-called “underground” or “house” churches like Shouwang, which refuse to submit to government regulations, which they consider unreasonable violations of basic human rights.
Rights groups have quoted Communist officials as saying privately however that there may be as many as 130 million Christians in the country.
The reported persecution of these Christians and other human rights abuses are to be raised with the Chinese government by U.S. officials in Beijing later this week.
The U.S. government has repeatedly criticized China’s human rights record. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an autonomous government board, last week condemned the actions against Shouwang.
Sunday’s crackdown on Christians comes ahead of next week’s annual human rights talks between Beijing and Washington in China.
Kathy is among those calling on the United States to demand Beijing respect human rights and religious freedom.