Christians 'Watched' After Attack

Authorities storm a house church in northern China, beating worshipers and demolishing buildings in the compound.

2009-09-18
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Linfen-Shanxi-305.jpg A southern view of the drum tower in Linfen, in northern China's Shanxi province, Jan. 6, 2009.
AFP

HONG KONG—Members of an unofficial Christian organization in northern China's Shanxi province were under virtual house arrest following a violent attack on their church and factory building earlier this week, church members said.

According to the head of the group who worshiped at Fushan Church in Shanxi's Linfen city, a group of around 400 people stormed the church buildings at 3:00 a.m. local time on Sunday, using mechanical diggers to demolish buildings on the church compound, including a factory.

"Two shovel loaders tore at the building foundations, while the mob, with bricks and other blunt instruments in hand, beat Fushan church members who were sleeping at the church construction site," the U.S.-based Christian rights group China Aid said in a statement on its Web site.

It said the attack left more than 10 church members bleeding heavily, with some severely injured and several hospitalized.

The head of the church group, surnamed Li, said the members of the church were still being watched by the authorities and forbidden to leave home since the attack, in which men and women were beaten unconscious.

Refused medical care

"One of our sisters fell unconscious to the floor," church member Gao Fuqin said.

"She was already unconscious and they dragged her outside. She didn't know what was happening. One man among them beat her about the head until she was covered in blood."

"There was a huge pool of it around his feet. Then they managed to drag him away and call for a car to take her ... to the county hospital."

Once there, church members said health-care workers withheld treatment and IVs for the victims of the attack.

"They refused to give her an IV," Gao said. "They said that church members would have to pay before they would do that."

Authorities involved

According to church members, police and government officials including Zhangzhuang township Party secretary Gao Xuezhong and vice-county governor Duan Yumin were among the attackers.

They said the attackers smashed windows, doors, kitchen utensils, refrigerators, and motorcycles.

"Some of them were beating people up, while others were breaking glass," a worshiper surnamed Bai said.

"They used an excavator to push down the courtyard walls and to demolish our newly built meeting hall," she said.

"We were driven out. When we went back afterwards we found that all the money and the cell phones from inside our bags had been taken."

Call for justice

ChinaAid President Bob Fu said Fushan county officials were responsible for the attack.

"We urge the Chinese government to hold those abusive officials accountable and take concrete actions to guarantee the Fushan citizens' religious freedom," Fu said in a statement.

Pastor Li vowed to take a complaint to central government authorities in Beijing.

"All this talk of legality is just a label," Li said. "This oppression really was very cruel. They behaved like thugs with such brutality."

"We have already lodged a complaint with the municipal authorities. If we don't get a reply tomorrow, we will take it directly to Beijing," Li added.

Official interference

Some civil rights lawyers have reported official interference, however, in cases brought by members of China's growing body of "house churches."

Courts in China have been instructed to reject appeals or complaints lodged against the authorities by members of unofficial churches, according to a lawyer who handles such cases.

House churches, which operate without official registration documents and without the involvement of the local religious affairs bureaus, come in for surveillance and repeated raids, especially in more rural areas of the country, according to overseas rights groups.

Officially an atheist country, China nonetheless has an army of officials whose job is to watch over faith-based activities, which have spread rapidly in the wake of massive social change and economic uncertainty since economic reforms began 30 years ago.

Party officials are put in charge of Catholics, Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, and Protestants. Judaism isn't recognized, and worship in nonrecognized temples, churches, or mosques is against the law.

In its most recent report on human rights in China, the U.S. State Department said freedom of religion is permitted to varying degrees around China.

Original reporting in Cantonese by Grace Kei Lai-see and in Mandarin by Gao Shan. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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