Crackdown on religion is now a key task for officials in towns and villages, higher-ups imposing personal responsibility on them for the success of persecutions.
by Jiang Tao
Focusing on religious persecution, the CCP is pressuring grassroots-level authorities across China to crack down on people of faith in their jurisdictions. Forced to take personal responsibility for any failure, local officials increase the levels of supervision and monitoring of religious venues and congregations at all times.
Accountability and reporting – essential
“The government is taking the matter of religion very seriously now. Every day, they ask us how many people in our village believe in God. If we say there aren’t any believers, they claim that we’re concealing what we know and failing to report it. If it is determined that we didn’t report the situation truthfully, we will be punished,” said a grassroots-level government official in the central province of Henan. “Now, we have to report our work to the township government twice a day. We also need to fill out a form in the evening. We’re so busy that we don’t have any free time at all.”
According to residents of Henan’s Yongcheng city, three local government officials were suspended from their duties this April, after it was determined that the number of believers they have reported to higher authorities was not in accord with the reality. They were reinstated later after pleading for leniency. Severe punitive measures are forcing grassroots-level governments to intensify their crackdown on religion. After this incident, all officials in Yongcheng made an all-out effort to investigate the situation of believers in their jurisdiction.
“Special attention is paid to this work. It’s like our lives are being threatened,” said a local official. “After reporting someone, we have to restrict their movements and report their situation every day.”
He added that higher authorities said in a meeting recently that the reason for such a vigorous crackdown was the fast-growing number of believers, making the government fear that this considerable force could contend against – and even overthrow – the Communist Party. Therefore, “measures must be taken, and the number of believers cannot be allowed to continue growing.”
Taking on personal responsibility
In April, grassroots-level officials in a locality in the eastern province of Shandong were required to sign one-year responsibility statements to suppress religion. Effective implementation of the task has been included in their performance evaluation.
The officials sign on to make sure that “no neglected areas and spots” are left behind in discovering and remediating non-licensed Buddhist, Taoist, and Christian venues within the jurisdiction.
For religious venues that have been shut down, close attention must be paid to their developments to “attain a timely grasp of the dynamics of key relevant personnel, and prevent them from rebounding and reviving.” As for newly established religious venues, they must be investigated and dealt with promptly and “prevented from evolving and gaining momentum.”
A 100-point scoring system has been adopted for performance evaluations. For example, 20 points would be deducted for each religious venue that resumes activities after closure or new sites are established.
Under this high-pressure responsibility system, local governments held meetings, one after another, demanding employees to focus on rooting out house church meeting venues, which has resulted in an increased number of reported and suppressed places of worship.
Officials in other regions have also been required to sign similar “religious work responsibility statements.”
Real-time supervision via messaging platforms
An official in the southeastern province of Jiangxi revealed that all levels of governments use messaging platforms, like WeChat, to share information and supervise suppression campaigns.
“Government officials have a WeChat group. Everything is sent to it: the latest orders from higher authorities, the status of regular inspections of religious venues, photos of believers and their movements during religious holidays, activities in closed down meeting venues,” the official explained. “Superior officials can easily ascertain the religious situation in local areas. They can even deal with any matter, regardless of importance, and conduct remote real-time monitoring.”
The official gave an example. During last year’s Dormition of the Mother of God, celebrated by Catholics on August 15, relevant grassroots-level officials received a notification in advance to pay close attention to the movements and whereabouts of believers and promptly report any situations that may arise on the day of the feast. A Catholic believer was taking a bus to a nearby city for the celebration that day, when local officials intercepted her on orders from the higher-ups to detain anyone planning to celebrate Mary’s Assumption. The woman was taken back home and admonished. The entire operation was coordinated in real-time by superior officials.