Chinese police raid underground church
Chinese police held 36 people in a raid on a bible school run by an underground Protestant church yesterday amid a nationwide crackdown on Christians worshipping outside Communist Party control.
About 50 officers armed with electric cattle prods and backed by more than 10 police vehicles surrounded the school in the eastern province of Anhui, according to the China Aid Association, based in Texas.
Those inside ó including students, teachers, and leaders of the underground church ó were taken away in police vans, the group said.
The schoolís owner, Chu Huaiting, was later arrested at his home, the association said. It identified Chu as vice president of the Chinese House Church Alliance, which unites about 300,000 worshippers in unofficial congregations.
The school also taught sewing to help students to support themselves, and completed blankets were confiscated in the raid along with thousands of copies of religious literature, the association said.
The reported crackdown comes after the adoption of new rules on religious organisations. China allows worship only in the official Three Self Patriotic Movement, set up after the expulsion of foreign missionaries and church leaders after the 1949 revolution. The party retains final say on the groupís finances, leadership and doctrinal issues. A similar organisation controls the Catholic church.
Protestant Christians are said officially to number around 16-17 million. Researchers suggest the real number  is more likely to be around 50-70 million. There are about 12 million Catholics.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is amongst those who has urged China to move toward religious freedom  and think about political reforms to match its economic opening.
The late 1980s saw a hardening of Chinese government policy towards religions as a reaction to the collapse of Eastern Europe and the Tiananmen Square incident churches in the UK were recently told .
Millions of Protestants worship in unregistered groups, often called house churches because they meet in private homes to avoid detection.
A newly-appointed Cardinal recently warned China  that he would continue to speak out about China's human rights abuses.
At the end of last year, the Vatican protested strongly  against the arrest and beating of Roman Catholic nuns which led to 600 Christians taking to the streets to demonstrate in Xian City, north west China.