25 April 2011

Chinese church lock down

The New York Times reports (on Easter) the entire article at the bottom of this blog.

Seems Chinese authorities are involved in arresting and detaining up to 500 Christians who are attempting to meet together in non-government-approved meeting places. The report features Shouwang (meaning "Lighthouse") Church. Their pastor and dozens of others are not allowed to gather, especially on Easter, the most significant day of the Christian calendar.

Any person of good will, and those who believe in freedom, especially freedom of speech, worship and assembly, are upset at the hostility shown by the Chinese government. The government shut down the church website overnight.

Freedom of religion and belief are recognised as human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was proclaimed by the United Nations in 1948 as ‘a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations’. Article 18 states:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."

Here in Australia, the Australian Constitution says very little about religion and religious freedom. Chapter V, Section 116 of the Constitution, which deals with freedom of religion and belief states:
"The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth."
(This taken from the Australian Human Rights Commission which released its ‘Freedom of religion and belief in the 21st century’ report published March, 2011)

But apparently neither of those documents is of value to China.

Does this Chinese action outrage you? Would you seek to prevent the church from meeting together? What rights, if any would you extend to those who worship and believe differently than you do?

I believe it's sensible to allow others to gather, to pray, and to believe what they want. They even have the right to express what they believe as long as it doesn't prevent another from doing the same. We are in a world of multi-everything. And that means someone, maybe Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or our Aussie Prime Minister Julia Gillard wandering today in Asia might want to have a word with Chinese authorities.

I would.

Maybe that's what this blog is doing today.
Maybe someone out there is listening.
I'll hope so.



Here's the NY Times article in full:
China Detains Church Members at Easter Services
By ANDREW JACOBS

"The authorities stepped up a three-week campaign against an underground Christian church on Sunday, detaining hundreds of congregants in their homes and taking at least 36 others into custody after they tried to hold Easter services in a public square, church members and officials said.

The church, Shouwang, or Lighthouse, an evangelical Protestant congregation that was evicted from its rented quarters earlier this month, has been at loggerheads with the government since announcing plans to gather outdoors rather than disband or return to worshiping in private homes. The authorities have repeatedly stymied Shouwang’s efforts to lease or buy space for its 1,000-member congregation, one of the largest and most prominent so-called house churches in the capital.

The Chinese Communist Party tightly manages religious activity, requiring the faithful to join state-run churches, mosques or Buddhist temples. Until the most recent crackdown on Shouwang and a handful of other unregistered big-city churches, such congregations had enjoyed relatively wide latitude from religious authorities.

Founded 18-years ago in a private home, Shouwang insists that it has no political agenda and only seeks government forbearance that would allow it to occupy the $4 million space it bought in 2009. Church leaders say the owner of the space, under pressure from the authorities, has refused to hand over the keys. Last week, a foreign ministry spokesman defended the government’s stance, saying Shouwang had “no legal basis” to operate.

Most of those seized on Sunday morning were taken away in buses after they showed up at the plaza, which is not far from several of the country’s top universities. A CNN crew said they were briefly detained and had their credentials confiscated before being turned away by the police.

Several church members, all of whom requested anonymity for fear of further provoking the authorities, say they were confined to their homes by security agents, some as early as Thursday, in an effort to keep them from joining Easter services. ChinaAid, a Christian advocacy group based in the United States, put the number of those under temporary house arrest at 500, although that figure could not be immediately verified.

On Sunday night, Shouwang’s Web site was blocked and its chief pastor, Jin Tianming, could not be reached by phone. In an e-mail circulated last week, church leaders asked parishioners to make their way to the elevated walkway where services were supposed to take place even though they would probably be intercepted by the police.

The letter took note of the upcoming Easter holiday and likened the congregation’s struggle to the tribulations endured by Jesus Christ before his crucifixion.

“We pray especially for those brothers and sisters who in the past week or two have already been forced to move or leave their jobs,” it said. “We ask God to remember the price they have paid for holding on to their faith and ask him to take care of their families and their daily life needs.”

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