The unregistered Shouwang house church has disrupted social order by gathering around 200 people at an outdoor Christian service on Sunday, said lawyers, as one of the participants accused local police of detaining 20 members.
The service, with 200 members present, was held in a garden near Zhonggang Mansion, a quiet outdoor space where Shouwang worshippers often meet, said congregant Xie Min.
Jin Tianming, the pastor of Shouwang, admitted that their weekly outdoor meetings started in April 2011, although they tried on several occasions to find suitable indoor premises.
“Each time we thought we found somewhere, the landlords finally cancelled the agreements,” said Jin.
Around 20 people were detained and held in police stations across Beijing for some time, according to Jin.
Jin told the Global Times that all the detained members were released on Monday, but Xie claimed that she was maltreated while being held for 24 hours at Dongsheng police station in Haidian district.
A post on Sina’s microblog service Monday from another church member, which contained claims of Xie’s treatment while in detention, attracted a lot of attention.
The church is asking for an official apology from Haidian district police for their alleged bad treatment.
Peng Kun, from Beijing Yingke Law Office, said that police can legally detain a suspect for 24 hours, but it would constitute a breaking of Chinese law if the maltreatment Xie alleged is proven to be true.
Any gathering of over 30 people in China needs official approval, said Peng, based on legal precedence, which Shouwang’s congregation exceeded if the figure of 200 that Xie cited is correct.
Chinese citizens have the right to choose what religion to follow, said Jiang Shouhui, of Beijing Deheheng Law Office.
“But it’s not appropriate to choose a public place as a religious venue, because it will create public disorder,” said Jiang.
Protestant groups in China must register with the Three-self Patriotic Movement Committee of the Protestant Churches of China, according to Chinese regulations on religion, and are protected by law if they worship inside an official church.
In April 2011, police arrested Shouwang congregants who were worshiping outdoors in the Zhongguancun area. This act of worship violated Chinese laws and regulations by creating public disorder, said lawyers, according to a Global Times’ report at the time.
Officers at Dongsheng police station would not comment on the case Tuesday.