Police arrested the activists as they gathered in the home of Niu Jianhua in Henan province's Tanghe county Tuesday night, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China. None have been released, it said.
Among those arrested was Wang Jincai, a leader of a controversial group known as the Shouters, according to the center.
Wang, who began preaching in underground churches in the 1980s, had finished serving three years in a labor camp only five days before his latest arrest, the group added.
In addition to Wang, leaders from at least four other Protestant groups were among those detained, the center said.
China's communist government forbids worship outside state-sanctioned institutions. But over the past 20 years as free-market reforms have eclipsed Marxist ideology and social controls have loosened, religious practice has soared.
Many have turned to underground, or ``house,'' churches, which are more charismatic and evangelical than the official non-denominational Protestant church.
Henan police have staged repeated raids on gatherings over the past 10 months. Eight people were arrested a week before Tuesday's detentions.
The Washington Times
Published in Washington, D.C.
5am -- August 27, 1999 www.washtimes.com
Christian leaders held in Beijing crackdown
By Toni Marshall
The Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic
Movement in China said police arrested the Christian leaders, not otherwise identified, in
the home of Niu Jianhua in Henan province's Tanghe county.
These reports could not be independently confirmed.
Reports of the arrests follow closely the crackdown on members of the Falun Gong, a sect that practices deep breathing and meditation and whose practices, the Chinese government insists, "have inflicted great harm to the people." Falun Gong, which claims 100 million adherents worldwide, was officially banned in China on July 22.
A Chinese Embassy official in Washington said he had no information about detention of Protestants. "Nobody would be arrested unless that person has committed a crime or violated the law," Yu Shuning, a spokesman for the embassy said.
"We have five religions in China -- Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim and Tao. If you engage in these religions at home it is better to register if you don't do anything wrong."
State Department officials said they were looking into the matter.
Religious groups in China are required to register with the government, and government-approved churches must submit to the control of the Religious Affairs Bureau.
The Patriotic Catholic Church, for example, disassociates itself from the Vatican and chooses its own clergy. Its services are subject to monitoring and government control. Worshipers who refuse to submit must worship secretly, and if discovered they are often sent to camps called "laogai" -- the Chinese word for thought reform -- to perform forced labor for the government. The government then attempts to renounce their beliefs.
The embassy spokesman said more than 900 persons had died practicing the Falun Gong's style of tai-chi, which combines breathing exercises and deprivations while forbidding the use of modern medicines to heal ailments. He said the followers illegally seized the government's central compound and disrupted public order.
Western analysts say China's arrest of the Protestants and the crackdown on the Falun Gong is a clear indication of Beijing's growing intolerance to religious expression. Some analysts say the arrest of the Falun Gong may have been planned as a "cover" for the harassment of millions of underground Christians.
One analyst speculates that the Beijing government, because it has no clear understanding of the West, regards the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe as the work of an underground religious movement.
China celebrates 50 years under Communist rule on Oct. 1, a period many Christians call "50 years of religious persecution." The Clinton administration has been severely rebuked by its critics, including Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer, for ignoring Chinese abuses of human and religious rights.
Joseph Kung, president of the Cardinal Kung Foundation, a Roman Catholic
lay group, said no country "should be complimented for this kind of persecution by
awarding them the opportunity to join the World Trade Organization."
"You cannot de-link human rights and trade. That sends a wrong message," he said. The Connecticut-based foundation was established by an exiled cardinal.
There are more than 9 million members of Roman Catholic underground churches in China, which grew from 3 million when Beijing organized the Patriotic Catholic Church in 1957.
A senior congressional aide said Thursday night that Rep. Christopher H.
Smith, New Jersey Republican, and 180 members of Congress have urged the Clinton
administration to withhold trade benefits from China as punishment.
"We have felt for a long time the administration is not doing enough," he said. "They are in favor of the view of turning a blind eye to human rights abuses and to keep extending economic benefits."
A State Department official said U.S. concerns are growing over China's
human rights abuses, which will be documented in a report to Congress Sept. 7. This report
will be the first annual report on religious freedom -- a product of the International
Religious Freedom Act signed by President Clinton last fall.
Under the act, the U.S. government is instructed to condemn or punish continued violations of religious freedom.
"The report will have a specific chapter on China. We are deeply
concerned about the continued pattern of arrest in China," the State Department
The timing of the release of the report to Congress comes just before Mr. Clinton's meeting with Chinese President Jiang Zemin next month during the annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in New Zealand.
Free China Movement leader Lian Shengde Thursday called for the United States to implement the International Freedom Act, saying, "Before Oct. 1 the government is going to prosecute and sentence to life the leaders of the Falun Gong detained in China. They are trying to scare Chinese citizens."