CCP intensifies its campaign to eradicate places of worship that don’t belong to the official Three-Self Church. Bibles destroyed, assets seized, believers arrested.
by Li Guang
Bitter Winter continues to receive more reports about crackdowns on people of faith, organized ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, primarily targeting Protestant house churches.
Suppressed in the name of “maintaining social stability”
In July, to strengthen the “stability maintenance” work for the National Day celebrations, the municipal government of a city in the central province of Henan issued a document, demanding each township and subdistrict to take measures for the “effective control of key and untrustworthy persons.” As per the edict, each institution should conduct comprehensive investigations in its jurisdiction to identify essential personnel in house churches and bring them into the government’s “line of sight” and “ensure that they are under complete control.”
In August, officials in the Suiyang district of Henan’s Shangqiu city were demanded to conduct daily inspections to seek out people of faith in their jurisdiction. If gatherings of two or three people are discovered, officials must investigate the matter thoroughly, to make sure that it is not religion-related.
According to an official from a village in the area, to suppress religious activities, the town government formulated a system of “four checks”: look for private religious meeting venues, find out if out-of-town preachers and pastors give sermons, locate any foreigners who visit religious venues, and identify believers who belong to religious groups that are labeled as the xie jiao.
10,000 Bibles seized for destruction
In late July, about 20 government officials from a city in Henan Province pried open the door to a house church meeting venue when no one was there and searched the place. They confiscated nearly 10,000 Bibles and hymnbooks, music equipment, a projector, chairs, and other church valuables. A government source informed Bitter Winter that all the seized Bibles would be destroyed.
After the raid, the person in charge of the meeting venue was taken in for questioning. The officials who probed him said that the clampdown on Christianity is a national policy, and everyone in China should believe in the Communist Party, not practice their faith. Accused of holding “illegal gatherings,” the in-charge was ordered to sign a Notice on Order to Cease Religious Activities, vowing not to organize any such activities in the future. The officials threatened to impose a fine of 50,000 RMB (about $ 7,000) and pass his case on to public security institutions if he didn’t sign the notice.
Congregations forced to meet in secret
According to a believer from one of the venues, police officers told the preacher and congregation members that “it is against the law to believe in Jesus,” and took them all to the local police station for interrogation. Most of the arrested believers were released the same day, but the preacher was detained for 15 days on the charge of “disturbing public order.” Bibles, hymnbooks, and other Christian books were confiscated.
The believer also revealed that three more meeting venues were also raided in the area; some congregation members were also arrested, and two preachers were too detained for 15 days.
On August 4, the police shut down the meeting venues of Enfu Reformed Gospel Church and Xishuipang Reformed Church, both in Chengdu, the capital of the southwestern province of Sichuan. Five pastors and elders from these two churches signed a joint statement in August last year, denouncing the Chinese government’s suppression of house churches. Many pastors who put their signatures on the statement have also faced increasing persecution from the authorities, and their meeting venues have been shut down.
A member of Enfu Church told Bitter Winter that in March, the police pressured the landlord of the church’s meeting venue, threatening to impose a fine of 20,000 to 200,000 RMB (about $ 2,800 to 28,000) if he continues renting to believers, but he refused to obey. The church’s pastor was frequently summoned for questioning and threatened by the police. During Sunday services on June 9 and July 14, police officers came to the church to harass the congregation by taking their photos.
After the meeting venues were shut down, members of Xishuipang Reformed Church and Enfu Reformed Gospel Church are now forced to assemble in small groups and in secret locations, to avoid further persecutions. Since cellphones of some believers, preachers, and co-workers are monitored, it makes it especially hard to continue organizing religious activities under such conditions.