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China Blocks a Memorial Service to Sichuan Earthquake Victims

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BEIJING — On the 10th anniversary of China’s deadliest earthquake in decades, the police on Saturday detained an outspoken pastor and blocked a planned service to mourn the 70,000 or more people killed when whole towns and villagers were crushed.

The anniversary of the earthquake, which rippled across Sichuan Province in southwest China on May 12, 2008, has been a time of renewed mourning for survivors, while the ruling Communist Party has used the date to praise China’s reconstruction of devastated areas.

But officials in Sichuan have sought to stifle any unapproved commemorations that could rekindle angry questions about why many new buildings, including schools, collapsed in the 7.9-magnitude quake.

On Friday night, the police detained Wang Yi, a Protestant pastor whose independent church planned to hold a memorial service on Saturday morning in Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan, his wife, Jiang Rong, said.

He was released on Saturday night after about 24 hours in detention, she said later.

The police also took away dozens of people who arrived for the planned service on Saturday morning, and they used trucks to remove publications belonging to the church, indicating that a broader move was underway against the congregation, known as the Early Rain Covenant Church.

Another church leader, Li Yingqiang, was formally held for questioning and released on Saturday night, Ms. Jiang and other supporters of the church said.

“Today more than 200 brothers and sisters were taken away by the police, and three still have not been released,” Mr. Wang said in a phone message to members of his church. He indicated that the conflict with the authorities may continue, adding: “The religious case of the Early Rain Covenant has begun.”

The police in Chengdu did not answer calls, or said they did not know about the case.

Mr. Wang has bluntly criticized Chinese state controls on religion and has had multiple run-ins with officials before. But this time looked more serious for him and his church, Ms. Jiang said by telephone.

An official from the religious affairs bureau told him that “the church assembly was unlawful and banned,” Ms. Jiang said, “and then the police read out another notice that accused Wang Yi of provoking trouble.”

Ms. Jiang shared a video that showed Mr. Wang repeatedly asking police officers at his door what exactly he was accused of. An officer said it was about his online activity, but did not specify what had he had done to violate China’s


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