State Dept. hits China for reportedly shutting down memorial service

State Dept. hits China for reportedly shutting down memorial service
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The State Department on Tuesday admonished the Chinese government for reportedly shutting down a church service last week aimed at memorializing tens of thousands of people killed during an earthquake a decade ago.

"We are deeply concerned by the Chinese government’s reported harassment of the Early Rain Covenant Church, in Chengdu, Sichuan Province after they planned to hold a memorial service on May 12, for the victims of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. 

"The United States government joins the people of China in mourning the loss of tens of thousands of lives in the tragedy, and notes the value of memorializing their lives and calling for full accountability to prevent or mitigate future disasters," Nauert continued. 

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"Regarding reports that Chinese authorities confiscated Bibles, we call on China to uphold its international commitments to promote respect for religious freedom for all persons."

The State Department statement came after Chinese authorities reportedly arrested the church's Protestant pastor, Wang Yi, on Friday after he planned to hold a memorial service to honor the 70,000 people who were killed in the 2008 earthquake.

The New York Times reported that police took away dozens of people who arrived for the memorial service on Saturday, while formally holding another of the church's leaders for questioning.

“Today more than 200 brothers and sisters were taken away by the police, and three still have not been released,” Wang, who has criticized the Chinese government in the past, said in a phone message to members of the parish, according to the Times. 

“The religious case of the Early Rain Covenant has begun.”

Officials in the Sichuan Province in southwest China have since 2008 moved to block any unapproved commemoration of the disaster, reportedly fearing it will raise questions about why various new buildings, including schools, collapsed.

An estimated around 69,000 people died in the earthquake, with another 18,000 going missing. 

Nauert's comments condemning the Chinese's governments latest moves in the province also come as the Trump administration attempts to negotiate a trade deal with China.