By Peter Foster
Security forces clashed with followers of a growing underground Protestant movement that was blocked from moving into a new meeting hall near Beijing, leading to three weeks of confrontation with the communist authorities.
Worshippers from the Shouwang, or “watch tower”, church were taken away in buses, some defiantly singing hymns. Church leaders had issued a “fire and brimstone” cry for the congregation to worship outside the building even if it meant arrest and prosecution.
Up to 500 members of the Protestant house church movement, unregistered assemblies of worshippers that the government bans to prevent the rise of opposition, have been detained in recent weeks. Yesterday’s arrests were a continuation of the authorities’ increase in repression of dissenters to stop any chance of a revolution such as those seen in North Africa and the Middle-East.
“Between 20 and 30 followers were taken away,” said Pastor Jin by telephone from his home, where he has been under house arrest for the past two weeks.
Christians are free to worship in China if they register with the state-approved churches, but millions of evangelical Protestants refuse to submit to government control. Estimates put the number of underground Christians at 40 million, with some claiming there are as many as 80 million. Shouwang church was founded in a flat in 1993 but now has 1,500 members. It claims to have been blocked from taking possession of a £2.5 million building it bought in 2009.