Police officials in China have arrested dozens of Christian worshippers from an unregistered church when they tried to pray outdoors, a rights group said.
The congregants sang hymns and said prayers as police loaded them onto waiting buses in Beijing's western Haidian district, the US-based Christian rights group China Aid said in a statement on Sunday, citing witnesses.
"The Beijing authorities have again demonstrated their total disregard of their citizens' constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right to religious freedom," China Aid founder and president Bob Fu said in the statement.
Shouwang church pastor Yuan Ling said by telephone that he was unable to go to the venue because police had put him under house arrest on Saturday night. Yuan said he knew of at least six other church members who were also under house arrest.
Police declined to comment when contacted by AFP news agency and requested written questions be sent to them by fax.
A church member who went to the gathering venue for services and managed to evade police told The Associated Press news agency that about 200 people were taken away and were being held at a local school.
The man, who would give only his English name, Kane, for fear of police reprisals, said their cellphones were also confiscated.
China's Communist government allows worship only in state-approved churches, but many Christians belong to unregistered congregations. Such "house churches" are subjected to varying degrees of harassment by authorities.
Shouwang, one of Beijing's largest "house churches", invited its members to meet on Sunday morning at an open air public platform linking the SinoSteel Building and the South China Poetic Restaurant building, China Aid said.
More than 60 million Christians are believed to worship in China's independent churches, compared with about 20 million who worship in the state church, according to scholars and church activists.
The United States and the United Nations have expressed serious concerns in the past week at a growing crackdown across China in which artists, lawyers, writers, activists and intellectuals have been detained.
The church incident comes a week after Ai Weiwei, an outspoken artist who helped design the Bird's Nest Olympic Stadium for the 2008 Beijing Games, was detained for unspecified "economic crimes."
On Friday, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the US secretary of state, called for Ai's release and criticised China for what she said was a deteriorating human rights situation in the first part of 2011.
However, China blasted back at Washington on Saturday with a statement on the foreign ministry's website saying the US should reflect more on its own domestic rights abuses.
"The US should stop interfering in other country's internal affairs with this human rights report," ministry spokesman Hong Lei was quoted as saying.