The Chinese government often uses indirect intimidation tactics to carry out its persecution of religious faith. In the case of underground churches, the people who rent out to them are often pressured to terminate agreements.
As per Article 71 of the revised Regulations on Religious Affairs, anyone who provides space for religious activities can be fined anything between 20,000 to 200,000 RMB (nearly 30,000 USD). The rent can also be confiscated on the grounds of being “illegal gains.”
Since October, the local authorities in Fujian’s Xiamen on the southeast coast of China had been harassing a woman for renting out space to Living Springs Church. The place was deemed illegal because Christian university students were taking part in congregation meetings, which is against official regulations.
The officials wanted her to terminate the rental agreement and threatened her, “If you do not rescind this lease contract with the church, your child will be unable to take the university admission exam. Civil servants in your family will be expelled from public office. Also, you will be fined 500,000 RMB (over 70,000 USD).” They also threatened to arrest her family, if she chose to ignore them.
The authorities resorted to various intimidation and threat tactics for the next month. To start with, they installed surveillance cameras.
They then ordered the landlady to remove all religious portraits from the meeting place and lock its doors. She was also expected to deliver an ultimatum to the believers to move out by October 25.
On October 28, the landlady allowed them to have one final gathering. But when the officials found out about it, they promptly showed up and broke up the meeting. In the end, given the relentless pressure, the woman was forced to terminate the rental agreement with the believers, and the church was shut down.
As per reports, the authorities have now started to deploy specialized personnel to track people who rent out to believers. Anyone found doing it is threatened and forced to cease the contract.
Before this, another house church, Shangli Church, was closed down similarly in May. The landlord locked the meeting place, out of fear and panic over the government’s threats.
Reported by Lin Yijiang