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May 19, 2011 by  
Filed under Asia, China, Persecution

Great-Hall-of-the-People is the seat of the Chinese Parliament

Great-Hall-of-the-People is the seat of the Chinese Parliament

Pastors from unregistered churches (“house churches”) in 

China have lodged an unprecedented petition with the Chinese parliament calling for religious freedom and a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict involving one of Beijing’s largest house churches.

The bold move – the first of its kind in 60 years of repressive Communist rule in China – follows the detention and house arrest of hundreds of members of Shouwang Church, which has attempted to stage outdoor worship services over five consecutive Sundays.

The petition to the National People’s Congress asks for a special commission to be set up to investigate events surrounding Shouwang church’s clash with the authorities, and a review of the constitutionality of China‘s current rules governing religious affairs.

It says:

We believe that the Shouwang Church incident is not an individual, isolated episode that happens to a single church, but rather a typical phenomenon in respect of the conflict between state and church during the period of social transition. Such conflict has arisen due to the fact that the outdated system for religion management has not been adapted to the development of the church.

The move is being backed by Chinese church pastors in the United States and Canada who have launched a worldwide “Help Shouwang” signature campaign; they hope that drawing international attention to the persecution of the church will stay the Chinese government’s hand in meting out even harsher punishments against it.

Shouwang Church has been undeterred in its efforts to worship in public despite many of its 1,000 members being detained by the police, placed under house arrest and losing their homes and jobs. Attempts to hold an open-air service began on 10 April and have continued every Sunday since. The church is protesting against being repeatedly blocked by the authorities from renting or buying places to hold services.

In an announcement following the fifth outdoor service on 8 May, the church said:

We are thankful to God that he stirs brothers and sisters’ hearts, so that they, despite the risk of being arrested, fired, forced to move out of their rented places are determined to join the outdoor worship service at any cost.

It has been becoming more difficult for members of Shouwang to turn out for the weekly services because the authorities have kept them detained in their homes. All of the church’s leadership have been under informal house arrest since 9 April.

At least 169 Christians were rounded up by up to 1,000 police officers during the first meeting; 47 were detained the following week, and on Easter Sunday at least 34 were arrested while a further 500 were confined to their homes. At least 31 members were detained on 1 May and, last Sunday (8 May), 15 Christians were taken away by police, including one from another house church who turned up in a show of solidarity.

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