Beijing Christians Detained (Updated)

A group of Christians in Beijing’s Haidian district has been detained by police, a week after their eviction from the restaurant where they had previously held services. From the Associated Press:

Beijing police on Sunday detained at least a dozen worshippers from a Christian house church who were trying to hold services in a public space after they were evicted from their usual place of worship.

Leaders of the unregistered Shouwang house church had told parishioners to gather at an open-air venue in Beijing for Sunday morning services, but police, apparently alerted to their plans, taped off the area and took away people who showed up to take part ….

One parishioner who evaded police told The Associated Press that no one made it to the open-air mezzanine where services were to take place. The man would give only his English name, Kane, for fear of police reprisals.

NPR’s Louisa Lim described the events on Twitter:

Police in Haidian detaining dozens of christians from shouwang church. Some detained before praying, one group led away after prayers.

Haidian police out in force, both plainclothes and uniformed. Blocked off place where Shouwang had wanted to meet.

Chinese Christians were singing hymns, saying prayers as policemen surrounded them, then led them off.

Some communications networks disabled in Haidian this morning, mobile phone network operating but no way of getting online

“I’m not scared” one Christian said before outdoor prayers. Those I saw didn’t waver in their hymns, as police w walkie-talkies surrounded.

A Reuters report on the group’s eviction last week anticipated this development:

The Shouwang Church, with about 1,000 members, is one of the biggest Protestant congregations in Beijing that has expanded beyond the confines of churches registered and overseen by the ruling Communist Party’s religious affairs authorities.

But the Party is wary about any potential unrest, and this gathering of neat middle-class and student Christians has been told by its landlord that it can no longer worship at the “Old Story Restaurant”, with its walls lined with pictures of Chinese Party leaders shaking hands with former U.S. presidents.

Church leaders warned that unless the church can find a new home, its members may be forced to worship outdoors, a risky step in this nation where big gatherings often attract official scrutiny and can be broken up by police ….

“Some people may face getting caught, may have to stand trial or may even be sentenced,” You Guanhui, an older pastor told the congregation about the possibility of gathering in a park or other public place.

The detention is certain to stir up strong feelings abroad. In Foreign Policy magazine’s Blake Hounshell’s words: “Expect fireworks in Congress.”

Update:

More details from the New York Times:

A man who answered the phone at the Haidian police station, which is several blocks from the site of the planned prayer service, refused to answer questions about the detentions on Sunday. Most of those detained were brought to a nearby elementary school, where they were briefly questioned and photographed ….

According to church members, Reverend Jin and other church leaders were blocked from leaving their homes by the police on Sunday. Dozens of others were seized as they emerged from the subway station at Zhongguancun plaza, a popular shopping area where the services were scheduled to be held.

By 8 a.m., hundreds of police officers, both uniformed and in plain clothes, swarmed the area. A wall of blue metal construction barriers, erected the night before, blocked off an adjacent public plaza.

The police questioned passers-by and forced parishioners on to buses, dragging and shoving those who refused to go. At one point, a group of plainclothes police officers could be seen kicking and beating a group of four young people. As one of the buses pulled away, the congregants pulled out a photocopied prayer sheet and began to sing.