Anyone renting to a house church can be punished with a steep fine – up to $ 30,000. The measure, supported with propaganda, has left many churches homeless.
by Li Guang
“Proactively report privately-established religious venues and illegal religious activities.” “For those who facilitate illegal religious activities, in serious cases, a fine of 20,000 to 200,000 RMB [between $ 2,900 and 29,000] will be imposed.” Red banners containing similar content were hung along all the major streets of Luanchuan county, under the jurisdiction of Luoyang city in the central province of Henan in April.
Banners like that have been displayed in other localities of Henan. A document entitled Daily Event Schedule for Focused Propaganda on Religious Policies and Regulations, issued by a county in Henan in March, stipulates the content and number of banners to be displayed on major roads; even the distance between the banners is indicated. As part of the CCP’s crackdown on religious belief, pressure on citizens through propaganda is indispensable.
The propaganda, it seems, has raised the level of fear among the people of faith. A Christian from an impoverished household in Luanchuan county used to host small religious gatherings throughout the year. But when she saw banners threatening to impose huge fines, she stopped, fearing that she would be unable to find the money for the penalty in case the authorities discover her.
“We have the largest number of house churches in Henan. The government is implementing such severe measures in its crackdown to eradicate house churches completely,” a member of a house church commented.
The person in charge of a Three-Self meeting venue expressed discontent with the government’s approach: “The government is hitting themselves in the face. The Constitution stipulates that citizens have the right to freedom of belief, but they are overtly saying that house church gatherings are illegal, encouraging people to report them, and even imposing heavy fines.”
The police and local officials have been harassing the landlady of a house church meeting venue in Jinshui district of Henan’s Zhengzhou city since last year to stop renting her property for the church that more than 100 congregation members used to attend.
The woman refused to obey, so, in April, officials told her that “religious issues are political” and threatened to fine her 200,000 RMB (around $ 29,000) if she continued renting the venue to believers.
The landlady told Bitter Winter that officials would call her practically every day to put pressure on her, even threatened to arrest her. The woman was told that even after she ousts the believers from her property, she would still have to report to authorities when she rents out the building again.
Pressured and intimidated, the landlady had no choice but to obey, and the house church ceased gatherings on April 28.
Similar situations have occurred in various regions. Sometimes, the police don’t even need to appear in person to shut down a church: a threatening phone call is sufficient to make the landlord tremble with fear.
For house churches that generally rent their venues, the suppression tactic to threaten landlords with hefty fines is detrimental – they are left with no place to congregate.
Heavy fines are also imposed on people who share the gospel or distribute religious materials. As in a county under the jurisdiction of Liaocheng city in the eastern province of Shandong, where, on April 3, the Religious Affairs Bureau adopted measures, imposed by the central government, to fine church members from 50,000 to 100,000 RMB (around $ 7,000 to 14,000) for distributing leaflets with religious content in public inhabited areas or near schools. On top of that, all of the church’s assets will be confiscated. If an individual is caught doing the same, he or she would be fined 50,000 RMB (around $ 7,000), and the person in charge of the church – 100,000 RMB (around $ 14,000). People providing their properties for religious meetings would have to pay a 200,000 RMB (around $ 29,000) fine.