Church members still in custody | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 18.04.2011
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Church members still in custody

Chinese authorities have taken action against one of the biggest underground Christian communities in Beijing. Last weekend nearly 50 members of the church were arrested as they attempted to congregate outside.

The choir of Shouwang church sing hymns during a service

The choir of Shouwang Church sing hymns during a service

According to the Shouwang Church, around 15 church members were still in police custody on Monday, April 18. Some of the church’s leaders, among them Pastor Jin Tianming, have been under house arrest for days now.

With approximately 1,000 members, the Shouwang Church is Beijing’s largest underground Protestant church. Like many of China’s home churches, Shouwang does not want to register as an officially recognized church, as it would then be under the supervision of the party.

Police officers watch over an area where members of an underground church had planned to gather for worship

Police officers watch over an area where members of Shouwang had planned to gather for worship

Church spokesman, Liu Guan, says the church will not be intimidated and will continue to congregate in public areas for worship. "As long as we are able to leave our houses, we will congregate outside. We still have no place to hold church services, so we have no choice other than to gather outside."

Free worship

Up until a few weeks ago, the congregation met in a room in a restaurant for services. Efforts to buy or rent another place failed, according to the church, due to pressure from the authorities. For that reason, the congregation called on worshipers to meet outside in a public area. During its first outside service on Sunday, April 10, around 160 members were taken into police custody.

Members of China's recognized church pray in churches. Underground church members are not allowed to worship in public

In China, there are around 20 million members of registered churches

Last Sunday, on April 17, a large number of security forces and undercover police surrounded the church’s planned meeting spot to prevent a further gathering. According to the religious rights group, China Aid, at least 30 people were detained and the church service was effectively prevented. But Liu Guan says the church will continue to worship outside. He says they pose no threat to the party. "We want to practice our religion. We have no political agenda nor do we support people involved in any controversial political cases. We have nothing to do with things like that. All we want is to practice our religion freely."

In China there are roughly 20 million members of registered churches. Estimates place members of non-registered, home or underground churches at 50 million.

Estimates put the number of underground worshipers in China at around 50 million

Estimates put the number of underground worshipers in China at around 50 million

Many of the smaller home churches are tolerated by the authorities, as long as they do not worship in public and do not publicly criticize the party. But by calling on members to worship outside, the Shouwang Church is challenging the authorities, especially since the Chinese government has been strengthening its crack-down on government critics. Since February 2011, dozens of rights activists, lawyers and other critics have been arrested. The detainment of the renowned artist, Ai Weiwei, at the beginning of the month caused outrage among the world community.

Author: Ruth Kirchner (sb)
Editor: Ziphora Robina