Chinese Shouwang church vows to hold more services

Chinese police usher people onto a bus at the site of a planned outdoor service by the Shouwang Church at the Zhongguancun commercial district in Beijing (10 April) More than 100 people were taken away when they tried to hold an outdoor service on Sunday

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An unofficial Chinese church says it will continue to hold outdoor services, despite pressure from the authorities.

Police officers detained more than 100 members of Shouwang Protestant church when they tried to hold an open-air service in Beijing on Sunday.

Church leaders say the organisation is purely religious - and has nothing to do with politics or human rights.

But it appears to have been caught up in a wider crackdown on dissent in China.

This latest incident comes at a time when the Chinese authorities appear to be putting pressure on all kinds of real and potential opposition to the government.

Dozens of lawyers, activists and bloggers have been detained or faced other forms of police investigation.

'Purely religious'

The Shouwang church, which has about 1,000 members, has faced difficulties in finding a permanent meeting place. Until last month worshippers met in a restaurant.

The church said three attempts to rent a new venue had been blocked - and it blamed the government for interfering.

A statement from Shouwang's governing committee made it clear that the church was determined to keep meeting outside.

"The church's position remains unchanged. We will continue to gather outdoors until the Lord shows us the way," it said.

But church leaders sought to reassure officials that it posed no threat to public security.

"Shouwang's gathering last Sunday, and future outdoor services, are purely religious activities," said the note from the church.

"They have nothing to do at all with politics or some people's rights activities."

More than 100 people are believed to have been taken away when they tried to gather for a service in the Zhongguancun district of Beijing on Sunday.

Some church leaders were still under house arrest, according to one of the congregation.

The government has not commented on its actions, although the state-controlled news service Xinhua released a statement from the official Protestant church late on Monday.

It quoted Cai Kui, head of the Beijing committee of Three-Self Patriotic Movement of Protestant Churches, as saying Christians should be both good followers of God and good citizens.

"The love for the country does not conflict with the love for religion," said Mr Cai, according to Xinhua.

He called on Christians to contribute to "national and social stability and unity".

China has tens of millions of Christians - both Protestants and Catholics - although the exact figures are difficult to determine.

Some worship in government-approved churches, others prefer to attend unofficial gatherings, known as "house churches".

The authorities often tolerate these house churches, although there is often interference.

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