China breaks up prayer service, detains more than 100

BEIJING—Chinese police on Sunday detained more than 100 people who tried to hold an outdoor prayer service on a pedestrian bridge in Beijing after they were refused permission to open a church.

Although it is not uncommon for police to raid unregistered churches, this latest bust in the heart of Beijing suggests that the focus on activists, bloggers, lawyers and intellectuals has been expanded to include Christian groups that in the past were able to slide under the radar.

The 8-year-old Shouwang Church, with a congregation of about 1,000, was popular among young professionals and academics, but in recent years complained that the government pressured landlords not to rent space in various hotels and office buildings where they wanted to hold services.

Alerted by text messages and emails that churchgoers would start gathering at 8:30 a.m., police swarmed around the designated meeting point — an elevated walkway between two office buildings near Beijing’s university district.

“Some followers who gathered at the original meeting point were dispersed by a group of plain clothes police officers who stormed in like wolves and tigers,” a Christian activist wrote on Twitter.

More than 100 people were loaded onto waiting buses and vans, some of them singing hymns as they were taken away, according to China Aid Association., a U.S.-based Christian group. Cellphone coverage was cut off in the area, apparently to prevent news of the detentions from leaking out. Most of those detained were taken to a nearby school for questioning and later released. But the pastor, Jin Tianming, was reported by the group to be under house arrest.

Shouwang Church leaders couldn’t be reached for comment and a website for the church had been taken down.

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