17 Chinese churches petition parliament for religious freedom
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.
“House churches” started as Bible study groups that often grew into large congregations, spawning fears in China’s ruling party that they could undermine its grip. But those worries eased in many areas in recent years, and many such churches are now much bigger than can fit into a normal house.
The petition, which was addressed to the standing committee of the National People’s Congress and its chairman, Wu Bangguo, demanded an investigation into the treatment of the Shouwang church. The Shouwang — meaning ‘watchtower’ — church has been trying to hold outdoor services for a month since its landlord terminated a rental agreement, which members blamed on official pressure.
Following the church’s call to worship outdoors, Chinese authorities put several of the church’s leaders under house arrest and forbade them to participate in services on Sunday.