BEIJING (AFP) – Police in China detained four US church leaders and a group of Chinese Christians after they held a religious gathering in the remote northwest region of Xinjiang, a rights group said Wednesday.
The Americans remain in custody after being picked up on Thursday last week and there are fears that at least six of the Chinese detained could face extended time in labor camps, the China Aid Association said in a statement
The Americans, including a senior pastor and an associate pastor of a US church, met with up to 30 local Christians in Aksu town after their Thursday meeting, according to the Texas-based group.
Eight of the local house church leaders were released while six others were served 30-day detention notices and were being accused of involvement in “evil cult activities,” the group said.
Some of the Chinese detainees had been beaten, it said.
China only allows religious worship in state-approved churches, while independent worship in “home churches” or “underground churches” is not permitted.
Organizers of such churches are routinely jailed without trial in labor camps. The six house church leaders facing cult charges have all been detained previously and could now face time in labor camps, it added.
“We urge the Xinjiang authorities to abide with both the Chinese and international laws in respect of religious freedom,” said Bob Fu, head of the aid association, in the statement.
The group said the US embassy in China was “intervening” in the case.
A US embassy spokeswoman said she was unable to discuss such cases due to US privacy laws, although she added that the United States would seek consular access to any Americans detained in China.
Chinese police and religious officials in Aksu were not immediately available for comment.
China’s western-most Xinjiang region is predominately populated by ethnic Uighurs, who are Muslim and who have often opposed Chinese rule, while the Christian population in the region is largely Han Chinese.