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Easter worshippers arrested at service

Chinese police detained at least 30 Christians belonging to an unregistered Beijing church as they gathered for an Easter service yesterday.

The worshippers from the Shouwang church were stopped near a plaza in the city's university district and then taken by bus to a local police station.

Shouwang members have been trying to meet at the plaza in the Haidian district since the congregation was evicted from its rented place of worship three weeks ago, but they have been detained or put under house arrest each time. Chinese Christians are required to worship in churches run by state-controlled organisations. However, more than 60 million Christians are believed to worship in unregistered "house" churches. The growth of such churches has accelerated in recent years, producing larger congregations that are more conspicuous than the small groups of friends that used to gather in private homes.

Their growing influence has unsettled China's rulers, always suspicious of any independent social group that may challenge Communist authority.

Shouwang members have for years been at odds with officials over their right to worship. They tried to register with the government in 2006 but were rejected. In December 2009, the church bought property in the capital for regular Sunday services but government interference prevented the group from occupying the space, the church claims.