Detention for five days marks new level of harassment for harried church. By the Editor
Chen Youwei, Lan Shunfang and Dai Liying. (Morning Star News via Shouwang Church)May 7, 2014 (Morning Star News) – In a higher level of punishment since Beijing’s Shouwang Church began meeting outdoors in April 2011, three members of the congregation on Monday (May 5) have been placed in detention for five days, sources said.

Police arrested two men, Chen Youwei and Lan Shunfang, and a woman, Dai Liying, along with 30 other church members on Sunday (May 4); the rest were released later that day, while Chen, Lan and Dai on Monday (May 5) were sent to Haidian District Detention Center for allegedly “disturbing order in a public place,” according to a notice from church leaders on Shouwang’s website.

Members of the 1,000-strong church have been routinely arrested at the outdoor services since April 2011. The reason for the greater administrative detention of the three Christians, said to be in their 20s and 30s, was unknown.

“It is still unknown why they were singled out,” a source in Beijing said of the three Christians. “But it seems the authorities have begun getting tougher towards Christianity.”

Previously no church member had been held for more than 48 hours, with two members forcibly sent back to their hometowns; Sunday’s administrative detention marks the first time members of the congregation have been held in a detention center rather than a police jail, said the source, who requested anonymity.

Shouwang preacher Yuan Ling and other church members tried to visit them at the detention center on Tuesday (May 6) but were turned away, the source said.

Beijing police reportedly employ hundreds of officers for surveillance of the meeting site and homes of church members.

“All the pastors and elders and some other co-workers are still under house arrest, mainly on Sunday mornings,” the source said. “The governing committee has issued an open letter to the congregants praying for the peace of the three members and their loved ones, opening the hearts of the government leaders, and the freedom of worship.”

The Shouwang (“to keep watch” in mandarin) church has been meeting outside since April 10, 2011 after authorities pressured a landlord to terminate the lease on their building. Officials had also blocked the fellowship from the premises it had bought in 2009.

The detention comes after controversy over the April 28 demolition of the massive Sanjiang Church in Whenzhou, Zhejiang Province, on the southeast coast of China, for being built at least four times larger than it was permitted. The structure reportedly took 12 years and 30 million yuan (US$4.7 million) to build.

At least four other church buildings in the province allegedly violating regulations have been either demolished or damaged, and six pastors (five from Sanjiang Church) arrested, according to reports.

The number of Protestants in unregistered churches is estimated at between 45 million and 60 million, with another 18 million to 30 million people attending government-approved Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) churches – potentially putting the number of Christians higher than that of Communist Party members, at around 74 million. The Pew Research Center puts China’s Christian population at 67 million.

House church leaders would like the option of registering outside the TSPM, as they disagree with TSPM beliefs and controls. Many unregistered evangelical Protestant groups refuse to register with TSPM due to theological differences, fear of adverse consequences if they reveal names and addresses of church leaders or members or fear that it will control sermon content.

Photo 1: Chen Youwei, Lan Shunfang and Dai Liying. (Morning Star News via Shouwang Church)

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