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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)-- Chinese security forces have detained a key pastor and his two sisters while "beating up" church members demanding their release in a new crackdown on devoted believers, Chinese Christians told BosNewsLife early Sunday, November 17.
Pastor Zhang Xiaoje of the Nanle County Christian Church in China's central Henan province was "arrested without a warrant during a discussion with police at his church", Christians with close knowledge about the situation told BosNewsLife.
The detentions in Nanle County on Saturday, November 16, were remarkable as the congregation is part of the state-sanctioned Protestant 'Three-Self Church' denomination. Christians linked the arrests to the pastor's popularity and his work among communities.
The detentions came shortly after Communist Party officials said China would abolish labor camps, where many Christians were held throughout the last decades. During four-days of talks involving 400 officials, the party also agreed to relax China's one-child policy, which Christian rights groups said led to many forced abortions.
Yet shortly after the annual closed-door Communist gathering, known as Third Plenum, authorities made clear that reforms do not include total religious freedom by detaining Pastor Zhang, Chinese Christians said.
The prominent church leader was allegedly surrounded by a dozen policemen. "In the morning of November 16, about 9.30 am local time, Pastor Zhang was tricked by local security chief Li and others into talks with officials at his church. This was a trap as suddenly a dozen police officers came to tied up Pastor Zhang, without a warrant or other any relevant legal procedures," the church told BosNewsLife.
Also detained were his two sisters, though there was no news about there whereabouts Sunday, November 17, Christians said.
Local believers told BosNewsLife that they and Pastor Zhang's family went to the police’s office demanding his release, but they were refused entry. Police allegedly beat some of the Christians "causing Pastor Zhang’s old age parents’ hospitalization because of high blood pressure," the church said.
Tensions remained high overnight with Nanle Counrt officials calling up Christian villagers and church leaders to "lecture" them. Officials also "threatened them and instilled fear among the believers," a Christian told BosNewsLife.
The church said they had urged believers in China and abroad to pray for them and for strength of Christians amid an expected wider crackdown on churches in the Communist-run nation.
"Please pray for this persecution and remember the Nanle County government’s crackdown on religion freedom and its religious discrimination," the church said.
"We also hope that brothers and sisters in the Lord at home and abroad will pray for us as well as each other and ask God's providence for the Nanle County Christians. Pray for the immediate release of Pastor Zhang Xiaojie and hope that the government administration respect the law and fairness," Christians added.
Chinese officials did not immediately comment.
Church groups and even Communist officials estimate there are as many as 130 million devoted Chinese Christians in the country of some 1.3 billion people.
On the Web: www.nanlechurch.ning.com and http://www.chinaaid.net/2013/11/blog-post_16.html