Hundreds of Christians in China were detained Sunday as they tried to hold worship service outside.
They were members of Shouwang Church, one of the largest unregistered Protestant churches in Beijing. The congregation was evicted from the restaurant that they were previously meeting at.
The church claims that the Chinese government has been pressuring landlords not to rent them space to worship.
With no other choice, church members tried to hold Sunday service at an open-air venue. The announcement was made on the Internet. They were aware of the risks and were warned b the pastor, the Rev. Jin Tianming, that they would likely meet resistance.
Police officers blocked some members from leaving their homes and detained more than 100 churchgoers, forcing them into buses and driving them away to an unknown location, as reported by Voice of America.
According to the China Aid Association, a religious freedom group based in Midland, Texas, "all but a handful" of at least 169 Christians were released 24 hours later.
As of Monday morning, a pastor, his wife and a female churchgoer were still in police custody, CAA reported.
Meanwhile, surveillance vehicles remain outside the homes of the church members.
"ChinaAid believes that their freedom of movement will remain restricted for some time to come."
In China, Protestant churches must register with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, which oversees the churches, and China Christian Council in order to operate legally.
The TSPM/CCC, however, is a government body that places submission to the state’s authority at the same level (if not above) submission to Christ’s authority. Therefore, many house churches refuse to be part of the TSPM/CCC because they argue that Christ is the head of the church, not the government.
They also fear regulation from the government, such as controlling sermon content, if they register.
Elder Fu Xianwei from Shanghai, chair of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, reports that there are over 23 million Protestant Christians, including non-registered believers. The underground Christian population, however, is estimated to be as high as 100 million.
The U.S. State Department released its latest religious freedom report last week and called China out on its continuing negative trend with regard to human rights.
"In China, we’ve seen negative trends that are appearing to worsen in the first part of 2011," said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
She expressed deep concern over the arrest of dozens of lawyers, activists, bloggers and others, and urged China to release those detained for exercising their "internationally recognized right to free expression."
China rejected the report, saying the U.S. has no authority to condemn their human rights record.