The government continues to crack down on unregistered Protestant venues across China, threatening and arresting believers.
by Deng Changlin
Only a small number of state-run Three-Self churches, closed for over six months due to the coronavirus, have been allowed to reopen to promote patriotism and praise President Xi Jinping’s “achievements” in fighting the epidemic. At the same time, house churches refusing to be controlled by the CCP are subjected to ever-growing suppression.
On May 20, more than ten police officers from the county-level city of Pizhou in the eastern province of Jiangsu stormed into a house church. They registered believers’ ID information, photographed them, and then emptied the venue. A nearly-70-year-old preacher and nine other congregation members were taken away and released the same day.
Six days later, the preacher received an administrative penalty notice from the local Religious Affairs Bureau for 200,000 RMB (about $ 28,000). The Bureau also demanded to close down the venue.
According to a church member, during a raid by local government officials in January, all faith-related posters were torn down and a blackboard used during sermons was damaged.
On the evening of June 29, government officials from the prefecture-level city of Zaozhuang in the eastern province of Shandong raided a Great Praise Church venue. After registering believers’ personal information, they called in police officers to disperse the congregation and take away the venue’s director for questioning. He was released at 1 a.m. the next day.
“United Front Work Department officials threatened to fine us 50,000 RMB [about $ 7,000] if we gather again and demolish the preacher’s house if we meet after the fine,” a congregation member told Bitter Winter, adding that they have ceased gathering.
Directors of other seven Great Praise Church venues were also arrested the same evening.
On July 5, nearly 40 Religious Affairs Bureau officials and police officers raided a house church in Zhengzhou, the capital of the central province of Henan. They dispersed over 20 elderly believers who were in a gathering at the time after registering their personal information. A 64-year-old believer, who led the congregation in reading the Bible, and the venue director, in his 70s, were taken away for questioning.
A church member told Bitter Winter that the Religious Affairs Bureau fined the two elderly men 10,000 RMB (about $ 1,400) each for “privately establishing a meeting venue.”
“We did nothing illegal by reading the Bible together,” the believer said helplessly. He added that the detained believer paid the fine, while the director, unable to pay, fled home and went into hiding.
More and more congregations lose their meeting venues because of the government’s suppression. Some organize their gatherings secretly in discreet locations, but authorities manage to find even these sites and disperse them.
On June 7, members of a house church were gathering in a park pavilion on a hill in Hangzhou, the capital of the eastern province of Zhejiang, when security guards spotted them. They called the police who dispersed the believers and took away the church director.
A congregation member told Bitter Winter that the church was closed in November last year after a raid by government officials. Having lost their place of worship, the believers started gathering in the park.
“It’s dangerous to meet outdoors because we can be reported to the police at any time,” the believer explained. “To be safe, we have to change meeting sites often, going from one place to another.”