Chinese police stake out churches, register believers who enter, then appear at their homes for “inspections.” Fearful worshipers are staying away from church.
As Bitter Winter has reported in the past, Chinese authorities are becoming more zealous in the effort to register the ID information of all Christians. Further reports from the field show this persecution is starting to discourage people from practicing their faith.
The state-controlled Protestant Three-Self Church has always been under the stringent control and supervision of authorities. Previously, Bitter Winter reported on the installation of surveillance cameras at several Three-Self churches, as well as the monitoring of their sermons. If the United Front Work Department (UFWD) believes that the content of a sermon violates their rules, the preacher in question is taken away immediately for a “talk.”
However, such surveillance does not seem to have reassured authorities, and their control of church members is growing increasingly stringent.
The experience of a Three-Self church in Tieling city, in Liaoning Province in northeastern China, shows how the supervision is impacting regular believers.
On September 8, 2018, when church members went to the chapel for a service, they discovered that two plain-clothed police officers were guarding the entrance to the church. The officers demanded that church members write down their personal information in detail before entering the church. For the service to proceed, each member of the church who had come for the congregation had to give the officers information including his or her first and last name, gender, age, home address, and contact information.
That day, one elderly Christian of nearly 90-years-old went to the church with her daughter. Like everyone else, she and her daughter were told they must register. The daughter protested, explaining that she didn’t believe in God, but was just there to accompany her elderly mother.
“Whether you believe or not, if you want to go inside the church you have to register,” the police officer said.
Police told the leader of the church, Yang Li (a pseudonym), “Your church is certified. It needs to be more obedient to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and submit itself to its control.”
A week after they had registered believers outside the church, police brought the list of registered church members to Yang Li and said, “Take us to each of these houses for inspections. Whatever house we want to go to, you’re going to lead us there.”
After that initial registration effort on September 8, on each day the congregation was scheduled to meet, three police officers were posted outside the chapel to register church members’ information. Under the harassment and persecution of CCP police, the church, which initially had over 100 congregants, gradually saw its numbers decline. Now, only about 30 believers remain.
As with Three-Self churches, members of house churches are also having their ID information registered.
On September 30, about a dozen people from the Religious Affairs Bureau, the Public Security Bureau, and other departments of Yunxiao county in the southeastern province of Fujian burst into a local house church and demanded that the head of the congregation site registered to join the Three-Self Church. The attending Christians were forced to register their personal information, as well as their phone numbers.
Claiming the preacher there didn’t have the preaching certification issued by the Religious Affairs Bureau, authorities prohibited him from preaching and took away the lectern from the church.
According to an inside source, the church members who were registered were all warned either by the local village committee or sub-district office that they were not allowed to attend congregations anymore.
Within the two months that followed, the congregation site faced three more incidences of harassment. Police ordered members of the church to give up their religious beliefs and told them to worship Mao Zedong instead. “Believing in God won’t do you any good,” they said.
Under the repressive power of authorities, the members of the church had no choice but to disperse into smaller, secret congregations.
Authorities also ordered a house church located in Shanghang county in western Fujian to register as well. On November 11, three employees from the Religious Affairs Bureau demanded that the head of the congregation site hand over information including each member of the church’s first and last name, ID, occupation, and phone number, as well as the title deed of the congregation site. The church leader refused.
“If you don’t register the congregation site, it will be shut down. It’s under government jurisdiction, and you must comply,” one official threatened. “If you congregate again, you will be fined 20,000 to 200,000 RMB (roughly $3,000 to $30,000).”
“If we register (to join the Three-Self Church), that means we believe in the CCP; what’s the point in believing in God then?” a preacher from the church said.
Some religious individuals are concerned that authorities registering church members’ ID information means they’re preparing for further persecution. These actions by authorities have created an enormous amount of mental stress for church members, causing their congregation numbers to dwindle.
Reported by Piao Junying