There are outcries in China as the ruling Communist party continues to intensify its control over religious freedom in the country.
Daily Mail reports that churches were raided and demolished, Bibles and other holy books were confiscated and new laws were established to monitor religious activities in the country’s province of Henan, which has one of the largest Christian populations in China.
Information gathered that under President Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, believers are seeing their freedoms reduced even as the country undergoes a religious revival.
Experts and activists say that the president is waging the most severe systematic suppression of Christianity in the country since religious freedom was written into the Chinese constitution in 1982.
Guo, a 62-year-old Chinese shopkeeper had waited nearly his entire adult life to see his dream of building a church come true – a brick house with a sunny courtyard and spacious hall with room for 200 believers.
But in March, about a dozen police officers and local officials suddenly showed up at the church on his property and made the frightened congregants disperse.
They ordered that the cross, a painting of the Last Supper and Bible verse calligraphy be taken down.
And they demanded that all services stop until each person along with the church itself was registered with the government, said Guo, who gave his last name only from fear of retribution.
The crackdown on Christianity is reportedly part of President Xi’s strategy to ‘Sinicise’ all the nation’s religions by infusing them with “Chinese characteristics” such as loyalty to the Communist Party.
Over the last several months, local governments across the country have reportedly shut down hundreds of private Christian “house churches”.
A statement last week from 47 in Beijing alone said they had faced “unprecedented” harassment since February.
According to Daily Mail, a dozen Chinese Protestants described gatherings that were raided, interrogations and surveillance, and one pastor said hundreds of his congregants were questioned individually about their faith.
“Chinese leaders have always been suspicious of the political challenge or threat that Christianity poses to the Communist regime,” said Xi Lian, a scholar of Christianity in China at Duke University.
“Under Xi, this fear of Western infiltration has intensified and gained a prominence that we haven’t seen for a long time.”
Those who resist pay the price After Jin Mingri, a prominent pastor who leads Zion Church in Beijing, refused local authorities’ request to install surveillance cameras inside his house church, police individually questioned hundreds of members of the 1,500-person congregation, the pastor said.
He added that his congregants faced veiled threats and many were asked to sign a pledge promising to leave Zion, which the government agents called illegal, politically incorrect and a cult.
Some people lost their jobs or were evicted from rented apartments because police intimidated their bosses and landlords.
“A lot of our flock are terrified by the pressure that the government is putting on them,” he said.
“It’s painful to think that in our own country’s capital, we must pay so dearly just to practice our faith.”
In Zhengzhou, Henan’s capital, all that is left of one house church is shattered glass, tangled wires and torn hymnbooks, strewn among the rubble of a knocked-down wall.
The church inside a commercial building had reportedly served about 100 believers for years. But in late January, nearly 60 officials from the local religion department and police station appeared without warning.
Armed with electric saws, they demolished the church, confiscated Bibles and computers and held a handful of young worshippers – including a 14-year-old girl – at a police station for more than 10 hours, according to a church leader.
Protestant churches are not spared Even Protestant churches already registered with the state have not been spared greater restrictions.
Five Protestant churches recently visited in Henan all bore notices at their entrances stating that minors and party members were not allowed inside, Daily Mail reports.
A banner above one church door exhorted members to “implement the basic direction of the party’s religious work.”
Another church erected a Chinese flag at the foot of its steps. Islam, other religions also face repression Elsewhere in China, religious practices and activities remain strictly controlled.
In Xinjiang, the newspaper reports that Muslim-majority region in the country’s far west, millions of ethnic Uighurs face repression and torture as authorities claimed to rule out potential separatist movements.
Former inmates have told of the horror after being detained in what the Chinese government calls “political re-education camps”, where they were physically and mentally tortured and as punishment, were forced to eat pork and drink alcohol.
In late July, children in traditionally Buddhist Tibet were required to sign an agreement to ‘not take part in any form of religious activity’ during the summer holidays, according to the Global Times.
The policy appears to reflect increasingly harsh restrictions on the Himalayan region’s traditional Buddhist culture, largely aimed at reducing the influence of the region’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India.
On Tuesday, August 7, state media reportedly announced that all religious institutions across the country are now required to fly the national flag, in a move to assimilate religions into the socialist society.
Xinhua claimed the rule is necessary to strengthen awareness of respect for the flag – a symbol of the country’s embrace of communism in 1949 – and preserve the flag’s dignity, adding that the practice can enhance the public’s national consciousness and civic awareness.