By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent
BEIJING, CHINA (Worthy News)– One of China's largest house congregations planned to hold its last outdoor worship service on Christmas Day in the capital Beijing after months of detentions, while elsewhere several congregations were raided by Chinese security forces as part of a Christmas season crackdown, local Christians and activists said.
In comments, monitored by Worthy News Saturday, December 24, the Beijing-based Shouwang Church said it would for the last time publicly worship in the open air because authorities detained dozens of believers and denied access to a building the congregation already bought.
"Shouwang Church had her 37th Sunday outdoor worship service," last week, however "As Christmas is approaching, each police station puts more force in guarding and watching believers," the church explained in a statement.
"As far as we know, on Sunday morning, [December 18] at least 35 believers were taken away [by police] for going to the planned location to join the outdoor service, either at the spot or on their way there."
The church added that "Except for a few believers who were released on the way, most of the rest were sent to 15 local police stations in their respective area. Besides them, five believers waiting outside of Haidian Street police station were also taken into police station to be detained by violent policemen for no reason."
Hours later, all 40 believers were released. On the eve of the worship service, Shouwang said, many believers were also detained at home" including a sister who was detained in a hotel nearby since Friday," December 16. The statement suggested that they have been released as well.
China Aid Association (CAA), a group assisting the Christians, said Shouwang was no exception as several house churches have been targeted "As part of an annual escalation of persecution against Christians in China to prevent planned Christmas celebrations from being held."
CAA said the situation was especially serious in two provinces, including southwest China’s Sichuan province, where police reportedly raided the main house church Friday, December 23, in Gaoxue village in Dazhu county, while believers prepared for a Christmas celebration.
Police allegedly grabbed believers and confiscated the church’s musical instruments. Five believers were taken to the police station, including three believers identified as Gao Qiyun, Li Qiong and Guo Xuying, CAA added. It was not immediately clear whether they would be released before Christmas Day.
Elsewhere on Friday, December 23, in coastal Zhejiang province, members of the Hongtang village house church in Dongyang county, were preparing for their Christmas meeting when they "were attacked" by police. CAA added that the village government, Communist Party officials and representatives from China's Religious Affairs Bureau were also involved in the operation.
"In the attack, some believers were beaten, including Brother Luo Sennian, who was punched in the face. The believers were also threatened and told that they must not hold any Christmas celebrations on Saturday, [December 24] which is Christmas Eve," added CAA, which is in close contact with the Christians.
CAA said it had urged the government to "respect citizens' right to freedom of religion and their basic right to celebrate Christmas and calls for the immediate release of the five believers and an apology for the believers who were beaten."
Chinese officials could not immediately be reached, but te government has consistently denied wrongdoing saying Christians can worship freely in state-approved Protestant and Catholic denominations.
Many of China's estimated 130 million Christians prefer to worship outside Communist government control however, rights groups and local Christians say.