Even during the coronavirus outbreak, China’s regime does not relax its efforts persecuting the religious groups it doesn’t control.
by An Xin
According to a government insider from the northeastern province of Jilin, in February, the provincial Religious Affairs Bureau issued a document demanding religious affairs departments in all localities to “rectify” house churches, using the “three-level network and two-level responsibility system.” Local officials are to investigate house church venues and collect information on when they were established, who is in charge of them, and how large the congregations are. This, according to the superiors, was needed to lay the foundations for a future unified suppression operation.
The source also told Bitter Winter that the government plans to join forces with public security, civil affairs, and other departments to suppress the investigated house churches. Also, seminaries, training classes, kindergartens, regular and Sunday schools run by house churches are investigated and will be closed down. Religious activities online are to be suppressed, and control and transformation through education of directors and congregations of the closed house churches strengthened to prevent them from resuming religious activities.
The government-established coronavirus control group in Nenjiang, a county-level city in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, issued an order on February 20, explicitly prohibiting individuals and organizations from providing venues for “illegal religious activities” in the name of preventing the spread of the epidemic. As per the order, the United Front Work Department should “resolutely shut down illegal religious venues,” and all townships and communities should intensify efforts to inspect and investigate such venues and their activities, immediately reporting them to public security institutions. Residents are called on to report such places proactively, promised to be rewarded with 5,000 RMB (about $ 700).
The decision to stop all public gatherings amid the spread of a deadly virus is unquestionable. In China, however, the epidemic is used to suppress people of faith and shut down places of worship.
The CCP has long persecuted house churches as “unstable elements” that threaten the regime by refusing to be controlled by it. Between late October and January, more than ten house church venues were shut down in Hangzhou, the capital of the eastern province of Zhejiang. In the city’s Jianggan district, a house church was closed on January 5. Local officials claimed that they were following orders from the central government to shut down all house churches. A congregation member told Bitter Winter that the government installed surveillance cameras to monitor the church and prohibited believers from assembling again. Before the shutdown, the venue has suffered more than ten government-organized crackdowns.
On October 27, five government officials raided a Local Church venue in Hangzhou, dispersing the congregation. They threatened to demolish the host’s house and imprison him if he continued to hold religious assemblies. He was later forced to write a statement promising not to host religious activities.
In early January, officials stormed into a house church in Heilongjiang’s Daqing city, took photos of its director, and forced her to write a pledge not to hold religious meetings.
“Since 2018, community officials have been coming to film me and my house,” the church director told Bitter Winter. “I have changed several cellphones and SIM cards, but they always know where I go. Every time I visit a fellow believer, they follow and harass me. I’m monitored wherever I go.”
A house church venue in the Guangfeng district of Shangrao, a prefecture-level city in the southeastern province of Jiangxi, has long been harassed by government officials. In December, the government hired two people to guard the entrance to the church every day to prevent believers from gathering. A month later, the venue was shut down.