From forcing the landlord to cancel the lease to banning the church’s WeChat account, authorities left no stone unturned in bringing down the church.
The Beijing Zion Church was established in 2007. The church’s head priest, Jin Mingri, had publicly expressed support for the Shouwang Church, which was being suppressed by the authorities. In response, authorities tried to pressurize the landlord against signing a rental lease with the church.
However, that did not work out and as of 2018, Zion Church was Beijing’s largest house church. Which is why, the authorities resorted to various methods in getting it shut down recently.
In June, the authorities installed facial recognition system outside the church. Listening devices were put in too. The police would track down believers at their workplaces or homes and coerce them into signing guarantees that they won’t participate in Zion Church congregations anymore.
In May, Bitter Winter reported that the CCP had accused the church of being a cult and had demanded installation of surveillance cameras around their congregation sites.
Later in June, the authorities cancelled the church’s WeChat account as well. When they created a new one, it was cancelled too. This went on for several days. In addition to this, several more of church’s online messaging accounts were cancelled later. As per reports, the authorities even tapped all of the account members’, including the pastors and believers, cellphones and WeChat profiles.
In July, the authorities tried to bribe a pastor who had a family member in hospital. They told him, “If you promise to cooperate with us, the illness your family is spending tens of thousands of RMB on can be cured by us for just a few thousand RMB.”
Another five pastors and a dozen preachers were interrogated as well. One preacher said that an official claimed that the government had a mole inside a Zion Church and so they had all the inside information.
In August, the landlord was again pressurized in cancelling the church’s lease, and this time, the authorities succeeded. As a result, the lease was terminated and church administration was told to move out. They were given 15 days and were supposed to empty the place by the first week of September.
However, the administration did not intend on following through with the move out notice as they knew they had not violated the lease. They decided to stay on.
On September 9, Beijing’s Chaoyang district civil affairs bureau issued a notice that the Zion Church was “legally banned” and its “illegal promotional material” was confiscated on the grounds that it violated the revised Regulations on Religious Affairs.
Pastor Jin Mingri recently spoke to Voice of America’s China channel and said that after the Sunday service on September 9, about 70 official personnel showed up at the church. They told him that the church was banned and that he should leave. His personal property was confiscated as well.
Consequently, a notice was also posted on the entrance of the church for the believers. It said, “Believer masses must comply with the rules and regulations and attend events in legally registered religious venues.” In China, a so-called legally registered religious venue means an institution that is controlled by the government and obeys the Party.
The US-based St Charles Institute says, “Chinese churches are experiencing the climax of the severest persecution seen in the past 40 years. These acts of persecution against Christians are premeditated and systemically planned. Learning from past experiences, government officials at all levels deal with religious issues through civil laws that are non-religious in nature. These acts are attempts to avoid revealing the blatant persecution of the church and the suppression of religious freedom. Terminating a church’s rental contract is just one such example.”
A pastoral member of the church echoed the view. He said, “It was the Shouwang Church first, and now it is the Zion Church. People are starting to see the truth from the government’s attitude in their treatment of different churches, and there is a common understanding that: If today it’s you, tomorrow it might be me. What’s happening isn’t because the government has something against the Zion Church; it’s because of what the government has against all of the Christian churches in the country.”
Reported by Feng Gang