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Group: Chinese Christians Detained

February 23, 2002

BEIJING (AP) _ Chinese police have detained 47 Christians after breaking up a prayer meeting in a village near Beijing, a human rights group said Friday.

The 47 had their Bibles confiscated and were denied drinking water after their detention Thursday morning, the Information Center for Human Rights & Democracy said.

The reported detentions came the same day Chinese President Jiang Zemin said in a joint press conference with President Bush that China’s people have freedom of worship.

Most were released by Friday afternoon, but 15 were still in custody, the Hong Kong-based center said.

More than 70 police officers surrounded and then swept into the building where the 47 had gathered in Haiqingluo, a village just north of Beijing, the center said.

Police told detainees that the gathering had been illegal, the center said.

Beijing police refused to comment.

China has been cracking down on unauthorized religious groups. These groups, some Christian but most based loosely on Buddhism and martial arts, have attracted millions of followers in the disorienting social and economic change of recent years.

Last week, the Vatican said 53 bishops and priests were either detained in China or being kept under strict police surveillance and forbidden to worship.

China has also arrested thousands of followers of the Falun Gong meditation sect, which it outlawed in July 1999.

During his two-day visit, Bush pressed China to allow more religious freedom, telling his hosts he prays for the day Chinese can freely worship. Bush left Beijing on Friday.

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