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Harassment Marks End of Difficult Year for Chinese Christians

By Patrick Goodenough International Editor (12/29/05)

A year marked by stepped-up religious repression in China draws to a close amid new reports of mistreatment of believers during and after Christmas celebrations, prompting campaigners to urge increased pressure from outside in 2006.

Christmas services were disrupted in the remote northwestern Xinjiang territory and in the southeastern Fujian province, while in Beijing , Christians were also harassed, Bob Fu of the China Aid Association said late Wednesday.

In Xinjiang, a predominantly Muslim region, several hundred police and religious affairs officials raided a Christmas morning celebration attended by 210 Christians, confiscated 80 Bibles, a minibus and another vehicle, a piano, driver’s licenses — and even food prepared for the event.

Twelve “underground” church leaders were taken away, and at least one was assaulted, Fu said, attributing the information to two eyewitnesses who had briefed him. Seven of them were released at midnight, but the remaining five were still under arrest as of Wednesday.

Clear across the country on the southeastern corner of China , a Roman Catholic Church service in Fuzhou , the capital of Fujian province, was also disrupted on Christmas, Fu reported.

Other incidents were reported across the country, but harassment was not reserved for the provinces. In Beijing itself, a pastor was interrogated ahead of a large Protestant gathering and told to restrict numbers to 100.

The pastor refused, said Fu, and police in the capital could not stop the meeting from going ahead for fear of bad publicity. In the days following, however, about 2,000 members of the congregation were questioned.

China ‘s communist authorities do not recognize any churches that are not affiliated to either of two “patriotic” state-controlled bodies, one Protestant and one Catholic.

Millions of believers continue to attend underground churches not sanctioned by the state, risking punishment as they worship in Protestant “house” church fellowships or Catholic congregations loyal to the Pope.

Despite Beijing ‘s assertions to the contrary, Fu said conditions for Christians in China have deteriorated this year, a trend he expects to continue.

“From the policy level and also in individual cases’ analysis, I don’t think there’ll be any improvement [in 2006],” he said.

China is famously sensitive about outside — especially U.S. — criticism of its human rights record, but Fu disagreed with the notion that attention from abroad could make matters worse for Christians on the ground.

“The more of the world that pays attention to this very serious problem, the better,” he said.

“Now we should make our voice heard — let the Chinese government know that we know. It will make a difference.”