Crackdown stymies Chinese church's Christmas meeting to draw attention to detained pastor

Lawyers and Christian churchgoers say they were blocked from holding a gathering in a central Chinese county to commemorate Christmas and draw attention to the detention of a pastor and his aides.

Rights attorney Xia Jun said Monday he and several other lawyers were on their way to a prayer meeting at a church in Nanle county when they were blocked by about two dozen middle-aged women he believed were hired by local authorities.

A Christian woman named Shi Ping says she and several others from Shanghai who had traveled to Nanle were escorted to a police station by plainclothes officers who guarded the church entrance.

The monthlong crackdown on the state-sanctioned church started with a land dispute that has pit its popular preacher against the county government.