Defiant Christians petition China parliament

Asia One, May 12, 2011

BEIJING, CHINA – A group of underground Chinese Christian churches has issued a defiant petition to the country’s parliament demanding respect for their constitutional right to freedom of religion.

The petition – signed by the pastors of 17 top unregistered churches – was addressed to Wu Bangguo, chairman of China’s parliament, urging the legislature to pass a law to protect religious freedom in the officially atheist country.

It complained of an ongoing nationwide crackdown aimed at shutting down “underground” or “home” churches.

In China, about 20 million Protestants and Catholics worship in official churches, while membership of “underground” churches which refuse to bow to government controls on religion has grown to an estimated 50 million.

The action was the first time so many unregistered churches had grouped together to publicly address freedom of worship in the Communist country, said the US-based rights group China Aid, which posted the petition on its website.

“For the last six decades, the rights to liberty of religious faith granted to our country’s Christians by the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China have not been put into practice,” said the petition, dated May 10.

It urged the parliament to investigate the constitutionality of the government’s “religious management” policy, which restricts and suppresses religious freedom through “politically-charged” government-run churches.

The petition also urged a probe into efforts by authorities to shut down Beijing’s Shouwang Church, the capital’s leading unregistered church with a congregation of more than 1,000, largely business people and academics.

Since 2009, Beijing authorities have repeatedly closed Shouwang’s places of worship, put church leaders under house arrest and detained hundreds of followers who have had to resort to worshipping outdoors, the petition said.

“We have observed the conflict between state and church unfolding recently in our capital Beijing and have so far seen no sign of the conflict being resolved,” the petition said.

“Similar incidents where a local church was forced to hold outdoor services due to governmental pressure on place of congregation took place in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Linfen.”

Meanwhile, China Aid said a Protestant church in central China’s Henan province was raided by police on Tuesday and a South Korean Bible instructor and his Chinese wife were taken into custody.

Another 51 church members, including two South Korean pastors, were detained overnight but released, the group said.