Police in China detained hundreds of Christian worshippers as they gathered for an outdoor service in Beijing. The detentions are the latest in a crackdown on individuals and groups deemed by the government to pose a threat to social stability.
The worshipers were from the unregistered, Christian, Shouwang House Church in Beijing. Their church leaders asked them to gather at an open-air venue for Sunday services, after they were evicted from their usual place of worship last week.
Hundreds of uniformed and plain clothes police officers were deployed to stop the outdoor service.
Around 200 Christian worshippers were were rounded up and detained in a nearby school and others were forced onto buses by police and driven away to an unknown location. Several foreign journalists were detained for short periods and some were physically intimidated by plain clothes police.
Shouwang Church Pastor Yuan Ling told reporters Sunday he was unable to go to the venue because police had put him under house arrest Saturday night.
The director of the Britain-based China Aid Association, Bob Fu, says the worshipers feel this is the price they will pay gladly for what he describes as their their faith and their freedom.
"We have seen the government use very harsh tactics against believers, including extra-legal procedures, like forced disappearance, kidnapping some of the most prominent Christian human-rights activists," said Bob Fu.
The round up of Christian worshipers is the latest in a far-reaching crackdown on individuals and groups the government says may pose a threat to social stability. The communist government has been worried about uprisings similar to those in the Arab world taking hold in China, following anonymous online calls for demonstrations.
Prominent activist, lawyers, writers and artists - including internationally renowned artist Ai Weiwei - have recently been detained and charged with a variety of crimes including subversion and tax evasion.