Saturday, August 25, 2007

BEIJING — Authorities have increased arrests of Christians operating outside China‘s sole official government church as a the result of a crackdown ordered last month, an overseas monitoring group reported yesterday.

At least 15 leaders in the unofficial church have been detained in recent days across six provinces and regions, according to the China Aid Association, based in Midland, Texas.

They include seven church leaders arrested during a worship service in Inner Mongolia on Tuesday and six others detained for up to 10 days in the neighboring provinces of Shandong and Jiangsu. In another case, Christian businessman Zhou Heng was arrested while picking up an order of 2 tons of Bibles at a bus station, the association said.

Those actions follow a crackdown on unauthorized religious activity ordered July 5 as part of a drive against crime and economic chaos at the village level.

“Strike hard against illegal religious and evil cult activity; eliminate elements that affect the stability of village governance,” said the directive.

The text was derived from remarks issued by Vice Public Security Minister Liu Jinguo during a nationwide teleconference and posted on the ministry’s Web site. Other crimes targeted ranged from kidnapping and gang activity to production of fake products and exploitation of the millions of children left behind in villages by parents who migrate to work in cities.

The association said some of those arrested had been conducting worship services or vacation Bible camps, including Kong Lingrong, who was running a Bible study class for young people on July 14 when it was interrupted by local officials.

Determined to make her stop, they cut water and electricity to her home, the association said.

Authorities have demanded Miss Kong guarantee in writing that she would not conduct such classes in future, warning that until she does so, they would also cut power and water to the homes of anyone found meeting with her, the association reported.

Calls to local governments and police stations in the areas where arrests were reported either rang unanswered or were answered by people who said they had no knowledge of the arrests.

China allows Christians to worship only in Communist Party-designated churches. Millions of others risk harassment, fines and terms in prison camps by worshipping in underground congregations usually hosted in private homes.

In an unrelated development, Chinese authorities yesterday barred the wife of an imprisoned human rights activist from leaving the country to accept a humanitarian award on her husband’s behalf, a friend of the woman said.

Yuan Weijing’s passport and phone were confiscated as she attempted to pass through security at the Beijing airport to fly to the Philippines, said Hu Jia, an AIDS advocate who himself has been under house arrest for months.

Mrs. Yuan had planned to fly to the Philippines to accept a Magsaysay Award, Asia’s version of the Nobel Prize, for her husband, Chen Guangcheng, a self-trained lawyer who helped farmers with grievances file court cases.

Mr. Chen, who is blind, was sentenced to four years and three months in prison in 2006 after he documented cases of forced abortions and other abuses by family planning officials in his native Shandong province in eastern China.

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