China Detains Worshippers at Unsanctioned Church

Plainclothes security personnel film as they gather to load detained worshippers onto a waiting bus near a building that leaders of the unregistered Shouwang house church had told parishioners to gather in Beijing, China, April 10, 2011

Chinese police arrested at least 30 members of an underground Protestant church in Beijing Sunday in a growing crackdown on dissent across China.

The U.S.-based Christian rights group China Aid reported that police rounded up members of the Shouwang House Church as they attempted to hold a service in a public plaza in the western part of the city. More than 150 church members were detained last week for attempting to meet in the same space.

China Aid head Bob Fu said two of the church's pastors, Jin Tianming and Li Xiaobai, were detained Saturday evening and released Sunday morning. Other church leaders have been put under house arrest.

The Shouwang House Church, which is not registered with the government, was evicted from its usual gathering place, a restaurant, earlier this month.

China allows Christian worshippers to attend state-sanctioned churches, but more than 50 million are believed to worship privately at unsanctioned, so-called "house" churches.

The latest arrests come amid a growing crackdown on dissenters in China, including artists, lawyers, writers and intellectuals, for allegedly calling for street rallies similar to those in the Arab world.

Supporters of detained Chinese artist and rights activist Ai Weiwei demonstrated in Hong Kong Sunday to demand his release. Ai, who designed the Bird's Nest stadium used for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, was arrested earlier this month and charged with unspecified economic crimes.