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Sunday, 24 February, 2002, 18:02 GMT
China frees elderly Christians
Falun Gong followers
The Christians were accused of being Falun Gong members
China has released 47 Christians it detained for "illegally gathering" during US President George W Bush's visit.

But police ordered that their house church in Beijing must be closed, members of the group said on Sunday.

They said they would defy that order.

President George W Bush with his wife Laura and Chinese children
President Bush preached religious tolerance while he was in China

A human rights group said that the Christians - some in their 80s and 90s - were mistreated during their detention.

About 70 officers from Beijing's Public Security Bureau broke up the religious meeting on Thursday in the city's Changping district.

President Bush had arrived in China's capital shortly before.

Bibles confiscated

The 47 Protestants were taken to various police stations, searched and had Bibles confiscated, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.

Some were released shortly after Mr Bush left China on Friday, others were held until Saturday.

The information centre claimed that the detainees were not allowed to drink water or go to the toilet while they were being held.

We believe in God, He will take care of us

Worshipper Yan Guizhi

Police told the group they had been arrested for gathering illegally though they were also accused of belonging to a banned meditation sect.

Yan Guizhi, a church member, told the AFP news agency: "They said we're Falun Gong.

"We're not, we're Christians."

He said the building used as a church was also a home for the elderly who did not have children to look after them.

"Our senior nursing home is our church. We have no other place to worship," Mr Yan said.

Ten people live in the home, which authorities said operated without a licence. Police imposed a 50,000 yuan ($6,000) fine.

'Too afraid'

But the information centre and Mr Yan said it was a non-profit organisation running only on charity and did not require a licence.

The home is used by local Christians for nightly services because there are no official or unofficial churches nearby, Mr Yan said.

"We're too afraid to meet for our regular services now," he added.

During his visit, Mr Bush called for China to embrace freedom of worship, saying such tolerance "is not something to be feared but to be welcomed".

See also:

24 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
China arrests unofficial Christians
09 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
China 'cracks down on Christian churches'
10 Dec 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: China
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