Beijing Authorities Harass and Detain Shouwang Church Members

July 1, 2011

Beginning on April 9, 2011, public security officials in Beijing frequently harassed, detained, and restricted the freedom of movement of some members and leaders of the unregistered Beijing Shouwang Church in response to the church's efforts to organize outdoor services every Sunday in Beijing's Haidian district. Shouwang began organizing the services after authorities reportedly pressured its landlords to deny the church access to indoor sites of worship where it had previously met or planned to meet. In one instance, according to overseas reports, uniformed and plainclothes police took into custody over 160 Shouwang members, including clergy. Between April 10 and May 15, authorities reportedly placed a total of approximately 500 members and church leaders under "soft detention" (ruanjin), a form of unlawful home confinement. As of June 5, authorities had taken Shouwang members into custody in connection with nine outdoor services. The incidents of harassment and detention occurred during a time when authorities' sensitivities to members of unregistered Protestant congregations who assemble into large groups or across congregations appeared to have increased, as well as during a broader crackdown against rights defenders, petitioners, artists, Internet bloggers, and others that began in mid-February 2011.

Beijing Authorities Take Into Custody, Confine to Their Homes Congregants and Church Leaders

According to reports from international media and non-governmental organizations, every Sunday beginning on April 10, 2011, public security officials in Beijing have taken into custody members and leaders of the Beijing Shouwang Church in an effort to pressure them to stop meeting. Over 160 were taken into custody in one instance, according to BBC (12 April 11, in Chinese). As of June 5, authorities had taken Shouwang members into custody in connection with nine outdoor worship gatherings. Shouwang, which has approximately 1,000 members, is reportedly one of the largest unregistered church congregations ("house churches") in Beijing (Reuters, 3 April 11). Beginning on April 10, Shouwang began organizing Sunday worship gatherings outdoors after authorities reportedly pressured its landlords to deny the church access to the sites where it had previously been meeting or planned to meet, according to an open letter from Shouwang (27 March 11, in Chinese, via the ChinaAid Association (CAA)). Officials detained some congregants for a few hours, while they confined others to their homes for weeks. For example, according to Voice of America (VOA) (25 April 11, in Chinese), Shouwang pastor Jin Tianming stated that, on April 24, some congregants were released after as little as five or six hours, but some were still held after approximately 30 hours. During the April 10 detentions, public security officials recorded the names and personal information of detained church members, took their fingerprints, and forced some to "write statements of repentance and personal guarantees," according to the CAA (11 April 11, in English). In addition, according to the Associated Press (AP) (10 April 11, via Yahoo!) and Shouwang (29 May 11, via CAA), on April 9―one day before the first gathering―officials began to confine some church members and leaders to their homes, monitoring their actions and restricting their freedom of movement. According to CAA (24 April 11, in English; 15 May 11, in English) and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (27 April 11), beginning on April 23, officials confined a total of approximately 500 church members to their homes. One hundred reportedly remained confined to their homes as of May 15. As of April 29, Shouwang pastors Jin Tianming, Yuan Ling, Zhang Xiaofeng, and Li Xiaobai, and lay leaders Sun Yi, You Guanhui, and Liu Guan remained confined to their homes, according to the April 29 Shouwang report. In addition to the detentions and home confinements, authorities in Beijing took other forms of action to pressure participants in the services to stop gathering outdoors. For example, according to CAA (10 May 11, in English), public security officials forcibly returned at least one church member, Hu Jian, to his home province. Within days of Shouwang's first outdoor gathering on April 10, congregants reportedly began to lose their jobs or were evicted from their homes after their employers and landlords came under pressure from authorities. According to reports from AsiaNews (16 May 11) and Shouwang (13 May 11, via CAA, in English), the Shouwang Church reported that 10 congregants lost their jobs and more than 30 were pressured to leave their rented homes.

Harassment and Detentions Occur During Time of Heightened Sensitivity to Unregistered Protestant Congregations

The harassment and detention of members of the Shouwang Church took place during a time when authorities' sensitivities to members of unregistered Protestant congregations who assemble into large groups or across congregations appear to have increased (see a related CECC analysis), as well as during a broader crackdown against rights defenders, petitioners, artists, Internet bloggers, and others that began in mid-February 2011 (see a related CECC analysis). The Commission has not observed any statements from the Chinese government or Communist Party that explicitly acknowledge a link between these factors and the Shouwang events. However, two April 2011 editorials from the Global Times (11 April 11, in English; 26 April 11, in Chinese) that coincide with the broader crackdown warn against "politicizing" religion, and the English-language editorial characterizes the April 10 outdoor worship gathering as a "public disturbance" (the Global Times operates under the People's Daily, the official news media of the Communist Party). The leaders of Shouwang Church insist that their actions are solely for the purpose of religious worship, and not political demonstration, according to Shouwang (4 April 11, in Chinese, via CAA). They say that "[Shouwang] will strive our hardest to avoid having our religious activities be dyed by the colors of politics, but whether or not this can be avoided is not up to us to decide." Authorities in Beijing have made previous attempts to prevent Shouwang Church members from gathering to worship. For example, authorities in Beijing detained Shouwang pastor Jin Tianming on October 17, 2010, as he led a worship gathering of members of unregistered churches whom authorities had recently stopped from attending an international conference on evangelization in South Africa, set to take place from October 16 to 25 (see a related CECC analysis). According to CAA (2 November 09, in English) and Radio Free Asia (RFA) (9 November 09, in Chinese), on November 2, 2009, nearly 1,000 congregants―and on November 9, 2009, over 700 congregants―met outside to worship after the church's landlord, reportedly under pressure from authorities, refused to renew the church's rental contract (for more information, see the CECC's 2010 Annual Report, p. 109.) Officials placed Jin under "soft detention" on November 8, 2009, according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders (12 November 09, via Boxun, in Chinese). A January 2011 document from China's State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) that outlines SARA's policies in 2011 calls on authorities to "guide" members of unregistered Protestant congregations to worship in state-controlled churches (see a related CECC analysis), but in recent months, authorities appear to have focused their efforts on stopping Shouwang from meeting. In addition to the recent detentions, an April 11, 2011, article in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) quoted Jin as stating that, in the last 18 months, authorities had forced Shouwang to move 20 times from locations where it had been gathering to worship. In 2009, Shouwang reportedly paid 27 million yuan (approximately US$4 million) to purchase its own place of worship, but the owner, under pressure from the authorities, failed to hand over the keys, according to reports from the New York Times (24 April 11) and AsiaNews (16 May 11). An April 18, 2011, CAA article (in English) reported that since 2009 authorities have prevented Shouwang from purchasing or renting any new properties, as well. According to a report from the World and China Institute (3 September 10, in Chinese), Shouwang applied for registration with the Haidian District Ethnic, Religious, and Overseas Chinese Affairs Bureau on May 11, 2006, but the Bureau reportedly refused to provide documentation necessary for registration because Shouwang's pastors had not been confirmed by a municipal patriotic religious association. The basis for the rejection reportedly stemmed from Article 10(4) of the Regulations on the Registration and Management of Social Organizations, which stipulates that a group that is applying for registration must have, among other requirements, "[a] number of full-time staff members corresponding to the organization's professional activities." As pastors not confirmed by a patriotic religious organization, they were deemed not to be appropriate staff members. Chronology of Events The following is a chronology of harassment of Shouwang church members between early April and June 5, 2011:

  • April 10: Public security officials took into custody for questioning 169 of the more than 200 church members who attended the outdoor service. Officials released most of them by April 11. The day before the gathering, officials placed under "soft detention" Shouwang pastors Jin Tianming, Yuan Ling, and Zhang Xiaofeng, as well as lay leaders Sun Yi, You Guanhui, and Liu Guan. According to China Free Press (13 April 11), authorities placed pastor Li Xiaobai under "soft detention" as of April 12. (BBC, 12 April 11, in Chinese; AP, 10 April 11; CAA, 11 April 11, in English; 16 April 11, in English; RFA, 12 April 11, in Chinese; 13 April 11, in Chinese)
  • April 17: Over 100 church members reportedly participated in the outdoor service, and authorities took 47 into custody. Authorities released most church members by April 18; however, it is unclear if all were released. Public security officials took pastor Jin Tianming away the night before and interrogated him for nearly 12 hours before releasing him back into "soft detention" on April 17. Officials took into custody pastor Li Xiaobai―who was already under "soft detention"―and his wife Lu Bingxia that evening and released them a few hours later (authorities released Li back into "soft detention," but sources do not indicate whether his wife was placed under "soft detention"). Officials also took pastor Zhang Xiaofeng―who was already under "soft detention"―into custody for questioning and released him back into "soft detention" at an unspecified time. (AP, 17 April 11, via Yahoo!; CAA, 20 April 11, in English; SCMP, 18 April 11, subscription required)
  • April 24: Public security authorities placed under "soft detention" more than 500 people―over half of the congregation―including all lay leaders and members of the church staff and choir. Officials took into custody at least 36 congregants who participated in the outdoor worship gathering on suspicion of participating in an "illegal gathering" and released them all a few hours later. (Wall Street Journal, 25 April 11; CNN, 25 April 11; Baptist Press, 2 May 11; United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, 27 April 11)
  • May 1: Public security officials took into custody at least 32 church members, including 2 children. The Commission has not observed any reports that indicate whether authorities have released these individuals. Domestic security protection officers took into custody Wang Shuangyan, pastor of the Beijing-based New Tree Church, on suspicion of "engaging in illegal gatherings" and released her 48 hours later, after questioning. (VOA, 1 May 11, in Chinese; CAA, 4 May 11, in English)
  • May 8: Officials detained at least 15 people who participated in the outdoor worship gathering. Officials released them all within 48 hours, except for 1 church member, Hu Jian, whom officials reportedly held at a police station in Dongsheng district, Beijing, for over 48 hours before ordering him to return to his hometown in Hubei province. (AsiaNews, 9 May 11; CAA, 9 May 11, in Chinese; 10 May 11, in English; 11 May 11, in English)
  • May 15: Public security officials took into custody between 16 and 20 church members and released 12 by that evening and the rest by noon on May 16. Authorities also confined approximately 100 to their homes for the weekend. (CAA, 15 May 11; in English; 18 May 11, in English; AsiaNews, 16 May 11)
  • May 22: Public security officials took into custody between 25 and 27 church members, including an elderly woman in her 80s and a two-year-old child, and an undetermined number were placed under "soft detention" for the weekend. Twenty-four were released within 12 hours. (SCMP, 23 May 11, subscription required; Guardian, 24 May 11; CAA, 24 May 11, in Chinese)
  • May 29: Public security officials took into custody at least 22 church members, and by midnight released 21 members, with the final person released by mid-day on May 30. (CAA, 30 May 11, in Chinese; 1 June 11, in English)
  • June 5: Public security officials detained 20 church members and placed dozens under "soft detention" in their homes beginning on June 3. The Commission has not observed reports indicating that any of those detained or placed under "soft detention" have been released. (VOA, 6 June 11, in Chinese; SCMP, 6 June 11, subscription required)

For more information about conditions for China's religious communities, see Section II―Freedom of Religion in the CECC 2010 Annual Report.