Using pandemic restrictions as a pretext to check residents’ identity, authorities hunt down believers from this banned religious group.
by Zhou Xiaolu
In 2019, China’s government launched yet another nationwide crackdown campaign against The Church of Almighty God (CAG), the single most persecuted religious movement in China, subsequently arresting over 6,000 CAG members.
Crackdowns did not stop even when the coronavirus epidemic hit China. On the contrary, authorities throughout the country used investigations on the implementation of lockdown requirements to identify and arrest more believers, many of whom live on the run to evade persecution. According to preliminary calculations, in February and March, over 300 CAG members were arrested across China during home visits by officials in the name of “epidemic prevention.” In May, at least 40 CAG members, most of whom were in their 60s, were arrested in Guang’an and Dazhou cities in the southwestern province of Sichuan. Some were subjected to various forms of torture.
“Epidemic prevention officials in communities went door to door to register residents’ information,” a CAG member from Xi’an city in the northwestern province of Shaanxi told Bitter Winter. “The police have pursued me for years. I could be arrested if I had to present my ID card.” The believer had no choice but to move away from the community to escape arrest.
A CAG member from Shaanxi’s Weinan city was reported to the police for refusing to provide an ID during a random inspection by community officials. She was detained, and her residence was searched.
Many other CAG members have been arrested similarly amid the pandemic. Some were tortured.
“In the courtyard of the police station, officers cuffed my hands over a tree behind my back,” a CAG member from the central province of Hubei, who was arrested on March 2, recalled after she was released. “They then sprayed some liquid on the mask that covered my face. I could not move the mask, which was soaked with the liquid that irritated my nose, making it hard to breathe. I nearly choked. The liquid was so hot that I could not open my eyes.”
The woman was tortured to reveal information about her faith and the Church. Because she refused, the officers continued tormenting her. “During interrogation the next day, an officer hit my head with a thin iron key chain,” the believer continued. “He then slapped me fiercely on the right cheek with a handgun-shaped iron object. I felt piercing pain, and my lips swelled up immediately.”
Another CAG member who was arrested that same evening recalled to Bitter Winter that during the second interrogation, officers covered the surveillance camera in the room and forced him to kneel, handcuffing him behind his back, with one arm pulled over his shoulder, and the other twisted from below. They then beat him severely.