Chinese authorities have arrested nearly 200 members of one of the largest unregistered churches in the country, saying they attended an unapproved prayer service.
As many as 169 congregants of Beijing’s Shouwang Church were taken into custody Sunday, possibly the biggest crackdown on China’s Christians in years.
Undercover footage showed churchgoers attempting to hold service in a public plaza as police surrounded them.
The church was evicted last week from their usual meeting place after Chinese authorities pressured the building’s owner to force the church out. The congregation then decided to hold prayer on public property, but they were met by police.
Shouwang Pastor Jin Tianming and other church leaders insisted no laws were broken.
In 2009, congregants were forced to meet in a park after a seller refused to hand over keys to a building the church had agreed to buy. The church has been in a standoff with authorities since.
“We have two requirements. One is to return the keys of the building we bought and the other is to get permission from the government for indoor activities,” Pastor Jin told the German Press Agency.
The Chinese government has tried to prevent the Shouwang congregation from meeting in the past. The church has more than 1,000 members.
All religious organizations in China are required to register with the government, but many church leaders refuse because of the country’s continuous persecution against believers.