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Relatives: China police detain 20 church members

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November 18, 2013 01:51 AM EST | AP


BEIJING (AP) — Relatives of a Christian pastor said Monday that police in a central Chinese city have detained the religious leader and about 20 churchgoers in a crackdown on a state-backed church involved in a local land dispute.

Pastor Zhang Shaojie was taken away from his church in Henan province's Puyang city on Saturday by police who provided no identification or basis for the detention, Zhang's wife, daughter and son-in-law said.

Sun Zhulei, Zhang's son-in-law, said police have also taken away about 20 others since last Wednesday, including Zhang's two sisters. Calls to local police and government offices rang unanswered.

The crackdown is unusual for a state-approved church. China's communist government allows worship only in such churches, while unregistered congregations tend to be subject to harassment.

But Zhang and other church leaders have been involved in a land dispute with local authorities in which city officials have tried to seize back land that had been earlier allocated to the church for its expansion, Zhang's daughter Zhang Yunyun said.

"Our church is now basically paralyzed," said Zhang Yunyun by phone, adding that she and her younger sister have fled the city to avoid detention. "They have taken away my father because he's quite influential and has tried to defend the church's rights."

Sun, the pastor's son-in-law, said though it was involved in a dispute with local authorities, the church was a law-abiding organization that respected the authority of the Communist Party.