Christian church leader barred from attending evangelical conference
A prominent house church leader and three other church members were stopped recently in an airport in China, from boarding a plane to head to Hong Kong, where they were slated to attend an evangelical conference.
Wang Yi, a church organizer and rights campaigner, was prevented along with three others by airport police from boarding a plane in Chengdu, Sichuan province, Asia News said.
Instead, the three were brought to a police station in Jiangxi street. The flight they were supposed to take was headed for Shenzhen, a mainland city that is near Hong Kong, Asia News reported.
They church members were supposed to attend a training conference on evangelical development and organization in Hong Kong. Wang, who leads an unofficial Christian church, was supposed to speak at the conference, Asia News said.
Wang told Radio Free Asia via cell phone, “As soon as we arrived at the Shuangliu Airport around 6 a.m. this morning, plainclothes police officers stopped us, taking us to the nearby station on Jiangxi Street.”
Wang added, “Police said to me, ‘You cannot go to Hong Kong.’ But I said they didn’t have any reason to block me from traveling, so ‘If you release me I will definitely [try to] go to Hong Kong again because the conference will last until Saturday,” Radio Free Asia reported.
The other three church members were released soon after and they proceeded to the airport and went to Hong Kong. However Wang was kept for several hours more, Asia News said.
When Wang was finally released he traveled back to the airport, but at 3 p.m. the police picked him up again and brought him to the same police station, where he was kept until 8 p.m., Asia News said.
A police officer from the police station denied to Radio Free Asia that Wang was detained saying, “No, we didn’t put him under house arrest and he is free.” However, no explanation was given for why Wang was not allowed to attend the evangelical conference. The officer on the phone just said, “I don’t know this particular case, but he is definitely free.”
According to Asia News, tens of millions of China’s Christians prefer underground churches, despite being targeted by the Communist Party. Recently, the number of house churches in China has risen dramatically.
Christianity has spread immensely amid a changing social climate that has been spurred by economic uncertainty due to reforms in the economy that were introduced 30 years back, Radio Free Asia said.
Officially, some 23 million Chinese go to Protestant churches. However, the actual number is believed to exceed 100 million including underground house churches, Asia News said.
The U.S. State Department placed China on its blacklist for international religious freedom violations, especially in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where repression has increased, and in the Tibet Autonomous Region, where it continues to be severe, Radio Free Asia said.