The Chinese government offers financial rewards for tip-offs on believers who are hiding from persecution and uses intimidation tactics against their families.
by Zhang Wenshu
Zhang Yanling, 51, is a member of The Church of Almighty God (CAG), the single most persecuted religious movement in China. Her neighbors describe her as a sincere, kind-hearted, and honest person. But the Chinese authorities launched a search campaign last year to track down and arrest her as if she were a dangerous criminal.
On September 4, 2019, the Public Security Bureau of Sishui county under the jurisdiction of Jining city in the eastern province of Shandong issued a search warrant for Ms. Zhang, who is wanted for “organizing and utilizing a xie jiao to undermine law enforcement.” Article 300 of the Chinese Criminal Code states: “Whoever organizes or utilizes any superstitious sect, secret society, or cult organization [xie jiao] or uses superstition to sabotage the implementation of any law or administrative regulation of the state shall be sentenced to imprisonment of not less than three years but not more than seven years in addition to a fine; if the circumstances are especially serious, be sentenced to imprisonment of not less than seven years or life imprisonment in addition to a fine or forfeiture of property[…].”
Aiming to encourage people to provide clues that would lead to her arrest, Zhang Yanling’s photo with information about her was publicized by state-run media outlets Qilu TV and Qilu Evening News, a widely-circulated daily. A special group to help hunt her down was created on WeChat, China’s popular messaging site, and incentives, ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 RMB (about $ 720–1,440), were offered for clues.
Zhang Yanling’s mother in her 70s, also a CAG devotee, was arrested after a tip-off on June 22, 2018. Ms. Zhang, a CAG leader at the time, managed to escape, but since then, she has become a target of the CCP’s hunt. Her mother was later sentenced to four years in jail, despite her age, merely for keeping church-published books at home.
Zhang Yanling mother’s verdict, as published on the website China Judgments Online.
Ever since the notice promising financial rewards for information on her was distributed nationwide, Ms. Zhang’s life has never been the same. “I don’t dare to go out fearing that I’ll be recognized and reported by my neighbors. I am caged like a bird,” she said.
Many internal CCP documents from all parts of China accessed by Bitter Winter demonstrate that the regime has adopted a series of measures aimed at completely eradicating the CAG. Among them are organized efforts to search for CAG members who have fled their places of residence to evade persecution, which include financial incentives for tip-offs and deployment of high-tech surveillance. Some local governments have advertised snitching on believers as “heroic and admirable conduct,” encouraging people to proactively report and provide clues about CAG members, promising rewards up to 300,000 RMB (about $ 43,200).
On August 20, 2019, the Public Security Bureau of Chiping county under the jurisdiction of Shandong’s Liaocheng city issued an online “Reward Notice,” offering 2,000 RMB (about $ 290) for information on four CAG members from the county. Among them, Mr. Sun and his wife have been living on the run for five years to avoid arrest.
“Our faith should not have made us offenders or lawbreakers. The CCP not only has rendered us homeless, but also hunts for us offering monetary rewards. It’s so evil, it’s like saying black is white,” Mr. Sun commented on his search warrant.
“Since our photos were posted online, we are afraid of being identified anywhere we go,” his wife added. “We can’t go out, let alone find a paying job to sustain our living. We are in danger every moment because we have to show our ID cards whenever we rent an apartment, take a bus, or see a doctor. We’ve been on the run, hiding, moving from one rented home to another for five years now. The CCP won’t let us be.”
The couple had to move again, afraid of being discovered and reported by their neighbors.