Grassroots-level bureaucrats are supervised to ensure their diligence in executing the central government’s policies on religion. Any misstep results in a penalty.
by Xin Lu
Bitter Winter has obtained a document issued in April by the Leading Group on Ethnic and Religious Work of a county in the southeastern province of Jiangxi that calls for the strengthening of “political responsibility” of grassroots-level officials to effectively guarantee the efficacy of the “three-level network and two-level responsibility system” for religious work.
The edict also demands to reinforce the guidance, supervision, and inspections of local bureaucrats, regularly reporting on the work progress to the county government and Communist Party committee. Officials are demanded to relate promptly any “illegal” religious organization, i.e., those that are not registered to join government-controlled religious institutions, as well as “illegal” preachers and religious activity venues. In cases of inefficiency that lead to “serious consequences,” those involved will be held accountable.
Similar policies, mobilizing grassroots-level officials to suppress religion, have been implemented in provinces of Henan, Shanxi, Fujian, and elsewhere in China, resulting in the punishment of officials who implement the policy ineffectively.
Punished for missing a venue
A Three-Self church meeting venue in Yiyang county, under the jurisdiction of Luoyang city in the central province of Henan, didn’t look like a regular religious site. This has helped it avoid closure during the repeated crackdowns on religious venues, organized by the local government. But the believers’ luck ran out in January: The congregation was in a gathering when the provincial secret religious work inspection team discovered the venue and took photos that were uploaded online.
The same day the photos were publicized, county, town, and village officials panicked, according to a source who requested anonymity. A group of them stormed into the meeting venue, ordering the congregation to clear it out immediately and hand over the keys to village officials. The cross was torn down from the wall, and a paper strip seal was put up on the entrance door.
The person in charge of the meeting venue and the preacher were detained on the charge of “disturbing public order,” and were forced to sign a statement of guarantee promising not to organize gatherings anymore.
The source also revealed that the provincial authorities were startled by the incident and decided to punish numerous officials from the city, county, township, and village governments. The village chief was suspended from duties for ten days and was forced to read a self-criticism at a township government meeting.
Party secretary fired for not submitting the names of believers
In a county under the jurisdiction of Henan’s Zhumadian city, a village’s Party secretary, who had served for 23 years, received an even harsher punishment. In early April, when several county government officials were inspecting religious work in the village, they discovered a religious couplet and a picture of Jesus in a Christian’s home. They immediately rebuked the Party secretary: “There are people who believe in God right under your nose, but you didn’t do anything about it! You will be dismissed from your post!”
Soon after, the Party secretary, supervised by his superiors, was forced to remove the couplet and other Christian symbols from the believer’s home. Further investigation by the county government officials revealed that several other families in the village were believers, but the Party secretary didn’t provide their names to them. This was the final straw, and he was relieved of his duties.
Some local villagers commented that for an official to be punished for corruption is disgraceful, but dismissal for not reporting people who believe in God is not.
Officials forced to crack down on religion to keep their posts
In May, a house church meeting venue in Yongxiu county under the jurisdiction of Jiangxi’s Jiujiang city was shut down. “O Lord, don’t blame me. Keep me safe,” the village’s Party secretary was uttering while tearing down the cross from the wall, eyewitnesses recounted to Bitter Winter.
“If it weren’t for the pressure from the superiors, who would care about these things? Officials from the township and county government require us to go to the church every week for inspections. In my heart, I don’t want to do it,” said the Party secretary. “But if I don’t do this, I will be punished. There is really nothing I can do.”
“We had a meeting, and my superiors wanted me to sign a statement of responsibility. If anything goes wrong, they will hold me accountable,” another village official said helplessly.