48 Chinese Christians detained New Year's Day

Beijing, China - Beijing authorities detained 48 members of a large persecuted house church on New Year's Day, marking a total of more than 1,000 church members who have been taken into police custody during the church's 38 weeks of attempting to hold outdoor worship services.

"By arbitrarily detaining peaceful religious believers in the capital city on the first day of 2012, Beijing authorities show that they are determined to continue their crackdown on independent religious groups in the coming year," Bob Fu, president of China Aid, said.

"In defiance of universal values and in violation of its own laws and constitution, which guarantees religious freedom, China's communist leaders are walking further down the road of the wrong side of history," said Fu, a former Beijing house pastor who was imprisoned for his beliefs.

Among those taken into custody Jan. 1, 30 were believed to have been released by 10 p.m. and the remainder were held overnight at various police stations across the city, China Aid said. Many other church members had been kept under house arrest beginning Friday, the watchdog group said.

Shouwang Church began meeting outdoors in April after being evicted from its rented meeting space and after authorities prevented the church from gathering in a portion of an office building it had purchased.

The church tried three times to rent three different venues, but Beijing authorities have ordered landlords not to rent to them, China Aid said.

Police arrest the Christians before the services even start and typically free them within 24 hours. China's Domestic Security Protection Squad has maintained constant surveillance outside the homes of senior church leaders, while police have camped outside the doors of other church members from Saturday night until noon Sunday, when service times technically are over, according to China Aid.

Compass Direct News Service reported that early on Christmas morning church members arrived at a public square only to find it heavily guarded with industrial-strength rails blocking access. Police arrested 41 believers who attempted to worship at the site that day, Compass said.

On the church's Facebook page, one church member said Christians who were detained indoors usually felt sorry for those waiting outside in the cold as they were able to "read books and have fellowship in a warm room," Compass reported.

The Facebook post explained that the believer was interrogated on Christmas Day with an officer taunting him for being afraid to give his home address and threatening to hold him long enough for the man to lose his job, Compass said.

Despite the ongoing persecution and winter weather, Shouwang Church leaders say they plan to continue meeting outdoors until a solution is reached.