Twenty-four hours after a crackdown on a house church that lost its indoor meeting site and was attempting to hold Sunday worship services outdoors, Beijing police had released all but a handful of the at least 169 Christians who were detained, said ChinaAid Association sources.
Western news reports described the move against the Shouwang Church, one of Beijing’s largest house churches, as the largest crackdown on unregistered Protestant congregations in years.
By Monday morning, only a pastor and his wife and one female believer were still in police custody. However, surveillance vehicles remained outside the apartment buildings of many Shouwang members, and ChinaAid believes that their freedom of movement will remain restricted for some time to come.
Church sources said at least 169 people were detained by police when they turned up at a previously designated public area in western Beijing’s Haidian district for their normally scheduled Sunday worship service at 8:30 a.m.
Some were immediately loaded into buses and taken away by some of the up to 1000 police who turned out in force to seal off the site in the Zhongguancun commercial area. Most were taken to a nearby elementary school, while others were held in local police stations. In almost all cases, the Christians sang hymns while in detention.
Police interrogated the detainees, took down their names and other personal details and ordered some to write statements of repentance and personal guarantees. Many refused and were not released until well after midnight.
Authorities had also put two dozen of Shouwang’s clergy and lay leaders under informal house arrest beginning Saturday night to prevent them from going to the meeting site. Members of the congregation who showed up but managed to elude the police regrouped in smaller numbers in nearby locations and proceeded to hold their regular Sunday worship service.
The church’s website was taken down, and cell phone coverage in the area of the meeting site was shut down, in an apparent effort to keep news of the crackdown from getting out.
In the days before the planned outdoor worship service, Shouwang church members were called in for talks by various authorities, including the local police, work supervisors, school leaders and neighbourhood committees, who warned them not to participate in the outdoor meeting on Sunday.
At least one Western reporter, the correspondent for The Toronto Star, was detained for several hours and had his press credentials confiscated. Other foreign reporters were turned away from the area by police.