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Chinese Christians Vow to Defy Government Order Against Outdoor Easter Services

Police officers watch over an area where members of an underground church had planned to gather for worship in Beijing, China, April 17, 2011
Police officers watch over an area where members of an underground church had planned to gather for worship in Beijing, China, April 17, 2011

Leaders of an independent Chinese evangelical church have vowed to defy Communist authorities and hold outdoor public services on Easter Sunday, raising the prospect of a confrontation with police.

The defiant stance of the Shouwang Church - one of Beijing's biggest unofficial Christian groups - comes amid a severe crackdown on government critics.

Some church members have already been placed under house arrest. But Bob Fu, a former independent church pastor and president of the non-governmental organization ChinaAid, says hundreds of supporters are planning to turn out across the country to pray and show their solidarity.

"I have a warning that at least 24 house churches so far, many of them major ones like Shouwang, have made an open declaration to show their solidarity with the suffering Shouwang members in various ways," said Fu.

China's atheist Communist Government only allows Christian worship in state-sanctioned churches, which are heavily regulated and staffed by approved leaders. Authorities evicted Shouwang from its previous place of worship in a rented office space in the capital Beijing.

In early April, 170 church followers were rounded up by police after trying to hold a Sunday outdoor worship service. Nearly 50 were detained.

The leaders of the church are currently under house arrest and will likely be unable to leave their homes on Sunday.

But along with pastor Bob Fu, they are urging followers in online messages to follow the example of Jesus Christ and resist government persecution. Fu says China's crackdown against the church will do more harm than good.

"I think the government will cause more instability, less harmony, and will be more harmful to society by escalating this crackdown and campaign against the church. And they will fail in the long run," he said.

The current number of Christians in China is disputed and varies between 23 million and 130 million, including Catholics.

However, millions are believed to attended illegal independent churches.

Authorities have cracked down hard on dissidents, activists and rights lawyers since anonymous Internet appeals emerged in February calling for "Jasmine" protests each Sunday.

China has faced international criticism for its human rights record.

Sunday's predicted showdown between Christians and the authorities comes ahead of next week's annual human rights talks between Beijing and Washington in China.