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Religious Crackdown in China...Just In Time for the Olympics

2:12 PM, May 12, 2008 • By JENNIFER CHOU
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With less than 100 days to go before the Beijing Olympics, China has stepped up its crackdown on the country's underground Christian church. Since the beginning of May, the authorities have conducted at least eight raids on house churches. The latest such incident took place yesterday in Beijing. More than two dozen police, along with officials of the religious affairs bureau, interrupted a gathering at the Shouwang Church and took the names, ID card numbers, home addresses, and phone numbers of all church members present.

A May 8 raid was targeted at a three-day Bible study session in Qingzhou city, in the eastern province of Shandong. That gathering, attended by some 30 house church leaders from across China, was broken up by more than 20 public security personnel. The lead pastor, who is from Taiwan, was deported and banned from visiting the mainland for five years. Zhang Yongliang, a local organizer, and his step-father were detained. Musical instruments and a computer found on the premises were confiscated.

Upon his release the following day, Zhang was informed that his church had been outlawed and its music school disbanded. Zhang also faces a fine of between 10,000 to 30,000 yuan (U$1,430 to $4,290). As of this posting, Zhang's step-father, who was punched and kicked by police during the raid, remains in custody.

On May 4, in Yanji city in the northeastern province of Jilin, pastor Hao Yuji was taken away by police in the middle of a sermon and ordered to dissolve his church. When Hao questioned the reason for his arrest, he was beaten and sustained injuries to his head and chest.

Also on May 4, authorities in Inner Mongolia shut down the Arong Zhen Ge Er Church and charged its 66-year-old pastor, Guo Jingtian, with "conducting an illegal religious meeting." Three days prior to the raid on Guo's church, Inner Mongolian police detained two ministers of the Daqing Church and confiscated their video camera, books, and household items.

On May 2, in Chengdu City in the southwestern province of Sichuan, a gathering of 44 members of the "Bliss of Autumn Rain Church" was raided by police and officials of the religious affairs bureau. Items confiscated include bibles and hymn and prayer books. One of the church members interrogated by the authorities was Wang Yi, a legal scholar and one of three Chinese Christians who met with President Bush in Washington in 2006.

In two separate raids on May 1 and May 3, four out-of-town evangelists were detained by authorities in Jiaxiang County in Shandong province. All four remain in custody, and two of them have been accused of being members of an "evil cult."

While members of China's underground Christian church have long been subject to persecution, the timing of the intensified campaign against them is somewhat ironic. It coincides with the May 2 release by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom of its annual report, which once again designated China as a "country of particular concern."

Even more troubling is that despite the human rights promises Beijing made when bidding for the Games, the stepped-up crackdown began just as the Olympic clock started its 100-day countdown.