In Xinjiang, one of the most restricted and heavily surveilled areas in China, Christians are detained for no reason, severely punished.
by Xiang Yi
Bitter Winter interviewed two Christians who recently visited the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. According to them, along with ethnic Muslims, people of all faiths are subjected to invasive surveillance and severe persecution, they are suffocating under the totalitarian regime’s tight grip.
Severely beaten for sharing the gospel
“I nearly lost my life in Xinjiang. Sometimes you must risk your life to open doors for the gospel,” said a believer from a Sola Fide house church in the eastern province of Shandong after his visit to Xinjiang earlier this year.
Together with a fellow churchgoer, he came to Xinjiang in the spring for missionary work. In June, both of them were arrested in the north of the region after a tip-off from a resident.
“The government encourages people to report on believers. Even young children would snitch on missionaries when they see them evangelizing,” the believer commented on the culture of spying and reporting in Xinjiang.
During interrogation, National Security Brigade officers pressured the two missionaries to sign a statement promising not to spread the gospel any more, but both of them refused. The angered officers dragged one of the believers (the one Bitter Winter interviewed) aside and beat him brutally until he lost consciousness. The next day, the two missionaries were ordered to go back to Shandong.
The missionaries were shocked at the intensity of surveillance and control measures in Xinjiang. “Guards even outside state-run Three-Self churches are fully-armed,” the missionary recalled. “Congregants have to pass four checkpoints before they are allowed in, their ID cards and belongings are checked, phone numbers registered. Believers are forced to leave the church as soon as the service finishes. Ethnic minorities are controlled even harsher.”
The two missionaries consider themselves fortunate. They learned from some local Christians that in March 2016, five Life Church preachers from the northwestern province of Shaanxi were arrested in a village under the jurisdiction of Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, after a villager reported them to the authorities. All of them were later sentenced to five years in prison, still serving their time.
Detained for playing Christian songs
On September 14, three friends from the central province of Henan, who came to Xinjiang for work, were waiting in line to go through security at a train station. One of them, a member of a Sola Fide house church, started playing a Christian song on his mobile phone. The police immediately spotted him and began shouting that he was playing religious songs in a public place on purpose, which amounted to illegal religious activities.
The three were detained and taken away for interrogation. Having found out that the man belonged to a Sola Fide church, the police claimed that his church is not registered with the Religious Affairs Bureau and is therefore considered a xie jiao. In reality, Sola Fide is not on the list of the xie jiao; members of these conservative Protestant churches merely refuse to join the state-run Three-Self Church. The three men were released only the next day.
While inspecting the believer’s cellphone, police officers discovered that he belonged to a Christian group on WeChat, China’s messaging site. When they learned that the group leader was from Henan Province, they contacted the police there. As a result, the WeChat group leader and his wife, who is also a Christian, and five other Christians in the group where taken in for questioning. The Henan police accused them of “forming gangs” and “believing in xie jiao.” The couple and two of the Christians were kept in detention for five days.
Persecuted merely on suspicion
For those believers who do belong to religious groups that have been included on the list of the xie jiao, Xinjiang is an especially dangerous place. In September this year, 68 members of The Church of Almighty God (CAG) were given heavy prison sentences by the People’s Court of Kuitun in Xinjiang – from five to 12 years.
People are arrested even when the government merely suspects that they belong to the banned religious movements. In early 2018, a resident in northern Xinjiang was sent to a transformation through education camp because he was looking online for information about the CAG out of curiosity. For the authorities, it was enough to accuse him of being a member of this Christian new religious movement, which is severely persecuted all over China.
Another northern Xinjiang resident was listed as a surveillance target after he met a member of the CAG. Soon after the meeting, the police searched his house, put a black hood on his head, and took him to a remote place for interrogation. The man was released because no evidence was found that he is a member of the CAG, but he is still under surveillance. When he visited his hometown in inland China for the Spring Festival, the Chinese New Year, police officers or community officials in Xinjiang continuously demanded him to send them via his phone the GPS coordinates of the locations he was at.