- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2002

BEIJING More than a dozen elderly Christians three of them in their 90s face eviction from a Beijing old people's home after police raided a suspected prayer meeting on the premises and ordered the home closed.

A police deadline for closure of the home passed Monday, one of the managers, Yang Guizhi, said yesterday.

More than 30 police and security guards smashed the locks and entered the home last week, on the same day that President Bush was in Beijing calling for greater religious freedoms.

Mrs. Yang and her husband, Chen Zhongxin, were ordered to move out of the home, in Haiqingluo village, within two days.

"If they ask us to leave, where can these old people go, where can we go? We have nowhere," she said.

Mr. Chen, 63, said the head of the Yandan township police gave him two days to leave the area, and levied a fine on local officials that he is sure he will be made to pay.

"The police chief said he would be fining the production brigade of the village 50,000 yuan ($6,041). I am now praying for the police, and hoping that God will save them," Mr. Chen said. The fine represents 24 years income for Mr. Chen, who is himself a pensioner.

The home, in the rural suburbs of northwestern Beijing, was raided at lunchtime and 47 suspected Christian worshippers taken into detention. The oldest detained was 80 years old.

"They took us to the police station, and asked us how we had contacted each other to plan the meeting," Mr. Chen said. The worshippers were told they had conducted an "illegal gathering."

Mrs. Yang, 57, denied that her home was an underground church, or that the meeting was linked in any way to the Bush visit.

"The police came because Bush came to China. But we live in the countryside. We didn't even know the dates of his visit. If we had known, we would not have held the meeting on that day."

Under China's religious laws, Christian worshippers may only gather in state-registered churches, where sermons and teaching activities are closely controlled by Communist Party officials.

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