At least two pastors from an underground Beijing church were in police custody and numerous other leaders remained under house arrest Sunday as part of a crackdown on the unregistered Shouwang congregation, a US-based rights group said.
The two pastors were taken from their homes by Beijing Public Security Bureau officers Saturday night, Bob Fu, president of the China Aid Association, a Christian rights group, said in an email.
Fu said all other Shouwang leaders were under house arrest, though he didn't give an exact number. Some church members have lost their homes or jobs amid an official campaign to shut down the church, he said.
China's Communist government allows worship only in state-approved churches, but many Christians belong to unregistered congregations. Such "house churches" are subjected to varying degrees of harassment by authorities.
Shouwang members have for years been at odds with Beijing officials over their right to worship. Tensions escalated earlier this month when the church was evicted from its usual rented place of worship, a Beijing restaurant.
Church leaders decided to temporarily hold services in a public space, prompting police to tape off the area and detain anyone who showed up to take part.
A second attempt at open-air services was planned for Sunday in northwest Beijing's Haidian district. Again, numerous uniformed and plainclothes police officers were parked near the office and shopping complex where Shouwang members were supposed to gather. An Associated Press journalist was followed and warned by plainclothes police not to conduct any interviews in the area.
A woman who answered the phone at the Haidian Public Security Bureau referred calls to the bureau's propaganda department, where the phone rang unanswered. Calls to the Beijing PSB office also went unanswered.
Shouwang tried in 2006 to register with the government but its application was rejected, the church said in a statement distributed by Fu.
In December 2009, the church bought property in northwest Beijing for regular Sunday services but government interference prevented the group from occupying the space, the statement said.