No Easter service in China–police block 500 worshippers from entering church, pastors under house arrest
Sometimes we forget that something as simple as going to church on Easter Sunday is not allowed in other parts of the world. In China today, police blocked 500 worshippers from Shouwang Church and arrested the pastor, where preparations had been made to have an Easter Sunday service. Shouwang Church is one of China’s largest independent house churches. CNN reports:
The gathering place for worshippers was empty as church-like bells sounded in northwest Beijing. Hundreds of uniformed and plain-clothed police officers swarmed the site of Shouwang Church and prevented CNN journalists from accessing the area.
Authorities confiscated credentials from CNN crew members and detained them for half an hour.
Worshippers spent several months preparing for the Easter service, according to members who spoke with CNN. Police on the scene told CNN they were stationed there for “security reasons.”
Shouwang Church’s senior pastor Jin Tianming is currently under house arrest by the authorities.
“Shouwang” means to “keep watch” in Mandarin. Shouwang is one of the largest “illegal” churches–meaning unregistered churches in China, attracting hundreds of worshippers. It was forced outdoors when authorities blocked the rental of the office space it had previously used. Over the past month, over 200 worshippers have been arrested and detained, and the leaders remain under house arrest. ChinaAid.org adds:
As happened the previous two Sundays, police and police vehicles were waiting at the plaza, and church members were bundled onto a waiting bus. Other church members were able to assemble in small groups in nearby restaurants, where they proceeded to hold their Easter worship service.
Based on an incomplete count in the early afternoon, at least 34 Shouwang Christians had been detained by police. Twenty-four were known to be held in various local police stations. Eight were in transit and at least two were unaccounted for.
“We are deeply disappointed that the Chinese authorities chose to disrupt peaceful worshippers who were simply celebrating Easter today,” ChinaAid founder and president Pastor Bob Fu said.
“By doing this, Chinese government again demonstrates its total disregard for Chinese citizens’ basic religious freedom and freedom of assembly. We continue to call upon the free world to stand firm in solidarity with the persecuted faithful in China.”
Among those who were held under informal house arrest were Shouwang’s pastors and lay leaders, including founding and senior pastor Jin Tianming. These church leaders have not been allowed out of their homes for more than two weeks. Also detained were all the members of the Shouwang choir, reputedly the best of the Beijing house church choirs. The choir had been practicing for months for the Easter celebration.
Journalists have been unable to ascertain exactly what violations the leaders and worshippers have committed, as calls to police have been unreturned.