By vigorously manipulating public opinion, Henan Province intensifies suppression campaigns that have resulted in the arrest of over 300 believers since January.
by Gu Xi
The Church of Almighty God (CAG) is the single most persecuted religious group in China, and it has been subjected to brutal crackdowns since its establishment in 1991. In 2018 alone, over 10,000 CAG members were arrested, at least 20 were persecuted to death.
In 2019, the suppression campaign against the Church continues to be waged throughout the country and is becoming increasingly rampant. To intensify it even more, authorities are employing propaganda to sway public opinion, offer rewards for informants, and use a variety of other methods to track down and arrest believers.
CAG members in the central province of Henan are among those that are hit the hardest. Slogans calling to suppress, defame, and boycott the CAG, as well as notices encouraging people to report on CAG believers, are ubiquitous in the province. As a result, according to the information provided by The Church of Almighty God, from January to July, 319 CAG members were arrested in Henan, at least 410,000 RMB (about $ 58,150) in church assets looted, and 2,742 CAG members harassed at their homes by the police.
All-encompassing information campaign
Bitter Winter has obtained a confidential document, issued in June by a city in Henan, that details a special operation to suppress the CAG. In the period of one month, the authorities carried out a full-scale crackdown on the CAG, using propaganda activities and following the requirements set out in the document: First, organize “photo exhibitions” to defame the CAG, distribute and post propaganda materials in most-visited public squares, busy streets, and other areas. Second, use the Internet, television, radio, and other platforms to broadcast propaganda films or theatrical performances that slander the CAG. Third, employ government-selected religious figures to issue statements criticizing the CAG.
The document also recommends to set up a platform to encourage the masses to report CAG members in exchange for financial rewards; to crack down on those who fail to inform the authorities about them and those who provide venues for CAG believers to assemble.
Subsequently, slogans defaming the CAG and calling to boycott it have been posted in cities, counties, and townships throughout the province, and reward notices have been put up in every street and alley.
Businesses ordered to display anti-CAG propaganda 24/7
As part of the campaign, LED screens used by merchants to promote their services and goods were also utilized for propaganda against the CAG.
On either side of the bustling Xiaoshan Road in Sanmenxia city, phrases such as “Boycott [The Church of] Almighty God,” “Guard Against [The Church of] Almighty God,” and “Stay Away From [The Church of] Almighty God” are scrolled in continuous loops on the LED screens of every shop.
According to a local merchant, in late May, local police issued to all Xiaoshan Road merchants the texts that they were ordered to broadcast on their screens 24 hours a day, according to a specified timetable. They were also required to take photos of the displays and send them to the police’s WeChat group. Because surveillance cameras are installed in every shop, and the police can monitor them all the time, the business owners don’t dare to disobey the orders.
Grassroots-level officials pressured to report believers
A village official from a county under the jurisdiction of Pingdingshan city revealed to Bitter Winter that on June 12, the county government issued a registration form to each village chief to collect information on each CAG members, including suspected believers, making sure not to omit anyone.
“This is a relentless campaign. The state has put the suppression of the ‘xie jiao’ into law,” the official said, referring to Article 300 of the Chinese Criminal Code. “As soon as the lists of names are submitted to our superiors, these people will be in trouble. Not only will they be fined, but they’ll be sentenced to prison as well.”
On June 20, the government of Yima, a county-level city under the jurisdiction of Sanmenxia city, informed all grassroots-level Party members and officials that any gathering of three to five people is regarded as a ‘xie jiao,’ and must be reported immediately upon discovery. The government also demanded that they distribute anti-CAG propaganda materials to every household and mobilize the entire populace to inform on CAG members.
Rewards offered for informants
The government of Taiqian county, under the jurisdiction of Puyang city, established an inspection team to visit each village and investigate the religious belief status of residents. The authorities also demanded to install a reporting box on the exterior wall of each village committee office for residents to report people who believe in God. “All of the more than 300 villages in the county must be investigated, and the investigation must be completed by September,” a county official ordered.
In early June, during a Party-members meeting in a Mianchi county village, “Anti-Xie Jiao Understanding Cards” and propaganda booklets were issued to each official, which were to be disseminated to residents. Each official was also required to report people who believe in God, especially CAG members, within the territory of their responsibility. On top of that, they were told to encourage the masses to report believers in exchange for monetary rewards, ranging from 300 RMB (about $ 45) to 1,000 RMB (about $ 140).
On June 18, several local police officers posted slogans opposing belief in God in the countryside, while inciting the masses to report CAG members to receive a reward of 3,000 RMB (about $ 430) for each. A young onlooker said, “I know someone who believes in Almighty God. I’ll go and report them tomorrow so that I can get the 3,000 RMB.”
Financial rewards are inciting people to report on believers, which is undoubtedly putting CAG members into precarious circumstances. In early June, the police arrested five CAG members in Henan after a tip-off, while they were holding a gathering. A relative of one of the arrested believers commented worriedly that in small villages, everyone knows who is a believer or not, ”People who believe in God are in danger!”