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Seventeen churches in China have appealed to China's lawmakers to provide legal protection of religious freedom after police detained dozens of Christians from a Beijing church that has been trying to hold outdoor services. The petition, delivered on Wednesday by hand to the National People's Congress -- China's rubber-stamp parliament -- was the first of its kind and the boldest statement by the nation's "house churches" to the central government.
It comes as the United States has sharply criticised China for its crackdown on dissent. China has jailed, detained or placed in secretive informal custody dozens of dissidents, human rights lawyers and protesters it fears will challenge Communist Party rule.
"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, therefore...we are lodging this petition," said the document, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.
Tears flowed at one of Beijing's biggest "house" churches when some 300 Chinese Christians prayed on the last Sunday before they face eviction from their makeshift place of worship, pressed by officials wary about religion outside of their grip. The Shouwang Church, with about 1,000 members, is one of the biggest Protestant congregations in Beijing that has expanded beyond the confines of churches registered and overseen by the ruling Communist Party's religious affairs authorities.