China Arrests 130 From Banned Christian Church
BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese police have arrested 130 Christians from a banned church, three of them U.S. missionaries, a human rights group said on Thursday as Beijing's top Catholic official declared China was in a ``golden age'' for religion.
The members of the China Fang-cheng Church, including the three Taiwan-born U.S. citizens, were arrested on Wednesday and were being held in the central province of Henan, said the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights & Democracy.
The center said in a statement that the church, an evangelical group with 500,000 members, was one of at least 14 Chinese Christian sects banned by communist authorities as ``evil cults'' -- as they did the Falun Gong spiritual group.
The statement identified the three U.S. passport holders as Henry Chu, 36, Dande Lin, 28, and Patrica Lan, 25. It said they were being held in Henan's Xihua county detention center.
In Washington, the State Department said the United States had sent a consular officer to investigate and possibly obtain access to any imprisoned Americans.
``We find the reports deeply disturbing,'' said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. ``According to the available information so far, the people arrested have done nothing more than to peacefully practice their religion.''
``That's an international right protected by international human rights instruments to which China is a party.''
``If the arrests are confirmed, we would expect China to grant us consular access,'' Boucher added.
Henan officials contacted by telephone said they had no knowledge of any arrests, while Xihua county police were not available for comment.
Groups Lumped Together As Cults
Like more than a dozen other Christian groups, the banned church ran afoul of communist authorities last year for its affiliation with overseas Christians and its refusal to join the government-controlled church, the human rights center said.
A U.S. official in Beijing said China had cracked down on numerous obscure Christian movements and Beijing appeared to be trying to ``lump together'' the various groups it had banned.
``Some of them, according to the Christian community, are not far from the mainstream and some are quite far from the mainstream,'' the official said.
The arrests came as a delegation from China's five state-approved faiths -- Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism and Taoism -- toured the United States before a world summit of religious leaders at the United Nations in New York next month.
The Communist Party-affiliated groups included the Three Self Patriotic Movement of Protestant Churches, the China Islamic Association and the China Patriotic Catholic Association.
'Golden Age' Claimed
The official China Daily quoted Bishop Michael Fu Tieshan, president of the China Patriotic Catholic Association, as telling an audience in Los Angeles that religion was entering a ''golden age'' in the country of 1.3 billion people.
Fu said China was experiencing an explosion of religious belief, but the poorly educated were easy prey for cults.
``Religious organizations in China run their own affairs independently and set up religious schools, publish religious books and periodicals and run social services according to their will,'' the government clergyman was quoted as saying.
But overseas human rights groups have deplored the clampdown on two quasi-religious mediation movements -- Falun Gong and Zhong Gong -- which it says are trying to overthrow the communist state, and the strict curbs on conventional religious groups.
China's state-run Catholic church, which does not recognize the Pope's authority, says it has more than 70 bishops and 4 million members. The Vatican says 8 million Chinese are loyal to the Pope and worship in secret.
The United States and others have criticized organizers of the religious summit in New York for not including the Dalai Lama, exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, apparently after pressure from China.
The organizers belatedly invited the Dalai Lama to the closing ceremony but not to the deliberations and the Dalai Lama had made other arrangements.
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