China arrests eight in crackdown on unofficial churches

Associated Press, Apr. 19, 2003

BEIJING (AP) — Eight members of an underground Christian church in China’s southwest have been charged with violating anti-cult laws, a police official said Thursday.

A human rights group that announced the arrests said they were part of a crackdown on unauthorized worship.

Twelve members of the church in Yunnan province were detained June 7 for “participating in cult activities,” but four were later released, said the official at the Funing County Detention Center.

“The remaining eight face criminal prosecution,” said the offical, who would only give his surname, Lu.

China’s communist government allows worship only in state-monitored churches, but tens of millions of Christians attend underground services, often in private homes. Members of such “house churches” are frequently harassed and arrested.

The New York-based group Human Rights in China quoted unidentified sources as saying police action against house churches in Yunnan was still under way. It called the arrests part of “the most wide-scale crackdown on house churches carried out in China this year.”

Human Rights in China said the 12 Christians were detained after police visited unofficial ceremonies in four locations.

The police told the worshippers they were there to register the church, but instead took them to Funing detention center where they were held without outside contact until June 13, the group said in a press release.

It said the church members had been trying to register with the government “in order to free themselves from the routine oppression that Chinese authorities impose on them.”

Last week, Human Rights in China said the founder of an unoffical Christian church was near death as a result of abuse suffered in jail.

Gong Shengliang, founder of the South China Church, is serving a life sentence after being convicted of rape and assault.

The group said Gong was beaten for professing his faith, refusing to admit guilt and requesting an appeal of his conviction.

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