By BosNewsLife Asia Service
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)-- Several churches in northwest China faced another day of tensions Saturday, August 17, amid a wider government crackdown on devoted Christian groups and the detention of believers, Chinese Christians said.
Pastor Tan Wen was among those remaining behind bars in the troubled Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region after he received a 15-day sentence following an August 4 raid on a worship service, according to Christians with close knowledge about the situation.
At least 20 police officers from the nearby Urumqi Municipal Public Security Bureau and Xishan Police Station were reportedly involved in the operation, the latest in a series of attacks against especially unregistered churches, though even official denominations have become targets, activists said.
He was reportedly earlier detained for 10 days after fve officers without police uniform raided a worship service on June 9. In both case security forces allegedly failed to show proper documentation or followed legal procedures, Christians said.
This wasn't an isolated incident as several unregistered Christian groups have been closed down, fined or had their members detained by police in Xinjiang in the last five months, said China Aid Association (CAA), an aid and advocacy group representing underground Chinese Christians.
CHURCH MEETINGS SEARCHED
In March, one such group in Yili was reportedly shut down by local police and the religious affairs bureau, and a residence used for church meetings in Kurla was searched by police equipped with guns and electric batons and a woman was later detained.
In June, two meetings in Urumqi were disrupted by local police and security officials and two people were detained for short periods, CAA investigators and other activists said.
A Bible study leader detained in June after being charged with conducting “illegal” Christian activity and another leader are filing for what is known as "administrative reconsideration".
While security forces have attacked especially unregistered groups gathering outside the state-backed churches, official denominations have also come under pressure.
Even registered religious activities by Muslims, Catholics and Protestants are closely monitored and often restricted in Xinjiang, where activists say residents face often more restrictions on religious and political rights than in other areas of the Communist-run nation, a key rights official, Mervyn Thomas, told BosNewsLife.
CONCERNED OVER RESTRICTIONS
"We are very concerned about restrictions on peaceful meetings of Christians and other religious minorities in Xinjiang," said Thomas, the chief executive of advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
"By prohibiting even small-scale, private religious activities, the government is severely restricting individuals’ right to freedom of religion or belief," he said.
The fact that, "in many cases, police and security officers do not show any identification or warrant" reflects what he called "the general weakness in rule of law in the region."
Thomas said his group had urged the Chinese government and Xinjiang authorities "to protect the right of all religious minorities to freedom of religion or belief, and to allow those who believe they have been wrongfully detained to file for administrative reconsideration.”
The reported fresh crackdown has also spread to other areas, including to eastern China where in Hebei Province surrounding Beijing, a priest of an unregistered Catholic Church fellowship was detained this month, Christians said.
HOUSE ARREST REPORTED
Law enforcement officials took Reverend Song Wanjun of Xiwanzi, Qiaodong District before sunrise on August 7 while driving, according
to Catholic Church representatives.
In the capital Beijing at least two pastors’ of the famed Shouwang Church are still under house arrest watched by security forces more than two years after the congregation was forced to worship in the open air. Other co-workers face a similar fate, Christians said about the chutrh, which has been meeting outside since April 10, 2011 when authorities pressured a landlord to terminate the lease contract on their building.
Christians said that Chinese officials have also blocked the premises the 1,000 strong church had bought in 2009. Other believers are also detained, usually for several hours, after worshiping in the open air, according to witnesses.
Some 40 people were detained last Sunday, August 11, and local Christians said at least one woman suffered maltreatment. “It was really sad for us to hear that one sister was manhandled by a deputy director at Zhongguancun West District police station, who seized her by the throat and pulled her hair,” the church said in published remarks. “Our sister calmly faced such rough treatment, and forgave this man by God’s grace. Nevertheless, we still condemn this deputy director for his evil-doing.”
China's government has denied massive human rights abuses and says actions are generally aimed against sects and groups not respecting the law of the country.
However many of China's possibly 130 million Christians prefer to worship outside the official churches allowed by authorities, while even within the government backed denominations groups are searching for a more personal, less religious politically correct, Christian faith, BosNewsLife monitored.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).
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