Government officials have been going on a rampage to close churches that won’t join the state-approved Three-Self Church.
Authorities shut down a more than 20-year-old house church located in Yaopu town of the prefecture-level city of Tieling, in the northeastern province of Liaoning, after it refused to join the state-sanctioned Protestant Three-Self Church. A source speaking on condition of anonymity, told Bitter Winter that the closure comes after officials for the United Front Work Department of Diaobingshan city, which is under Tieling’s administration, convened a meeting of more than 30 employees of neighborhood committees to begin an intense crackdown on home gatherings of all religious persuasions – from Christians to Buddhists to Muslims.
It was decided at the meeting that religious believers are only allowed to attend gatherings at religious venues that have a government-issued religious activity permit; other gathering places will be shut down. The official claimed that Tieling city has already become a focus of the crackdown on religious house gatherings.
Bitter Winter has learned that on October 19, a group of four local government officials arrived at the church in Yaopu town. They took photos of the meeting venue and forced the church’s leader to sign her name on a document stating that she promised to no longer hold any house gatherings. Afterward, they issued a notification to shut down that church, dissolving it on the basis that it lacked the necessary government permits.
In other parts of Liaoning, the operation to eliminate house church gathering venues is also going on.
In late October, police officers from the Liaoyang City Public Security Bureau stormed into the home of local Christian in her 70s, Ms. Han (a pseudonym), and searched her home, which was also a meeting place of Christians. The police tore the cross off her wall, deleted the religious materials from her computer and confiscated Bibles, hymnbooks, a TV, a donation box, and other items. Then, of course, the meeting venue was shut down. After her gathering place was closed down, more than a dozen other elderly believers no longer had a place to meet.
The plight of house churches in Heilongjiang Province is also extremely dire. In the past three months, roughly authorities have forcibly shut down 15 house church meeting venues in the province, though the accurate number is hard to come by.
In late October, the leader of a house church in Yanshou county under the administration of Harbin, the capital city of Heilongjiang Province, received a notice to cease gatherings from the county’s Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs, stating that if this requirement is not carried out, those responsible would be fined or arrested – the fine could range from 20,000 to 200,000 RMB (about $2,900 to $29,000). The church was forced to stop holding gatherings. The believers dispersed and formed smaller groups, secretly holding gatherings at their homes.
Another house church in Jixi city of Heilongjiang was also shut down on the basis that permits were lacking. To enable believers to have gatherings as normal, the church has rented a dance studio as a cover and continues holdings gatherings.
In order to eliminate house church meeting places, the government of a township in Heilongjiang Province has expressly demanded in a meeting that groups of people in each village monitor the gatherings and arrange for personnel to patrol and follow them. As soon as they discover a gathering of more than three people, an arrest will be made immediately, a source said.
In the second half of 2018, the Chinese authorities have intensified the suppression of Christian house churches across the country. In September, the Zion Church — the largest house church in Beijing — was shut down. On October 14, the prominent Ronggui Lane Church in Guangzhou, the capital of the southern province of Guangdong, was closed down. On December 9, the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, the capital of southwestern China’s Sichuan province, was forcibly shut down, charging its pastor, Wang Yi, with “inciting subversion of state power.” Several believers remain in custody to date.
Reported by Piao Junying