A report by the municipal Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs details achievements in suppressing believers and outlines new, even more rigorous, crackdowns.
Bitter Winter has accessed The Summary Report by the Shuangyashan Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs on Religious Work in 2018, detailing last year’s suppression activities, implemented in the city that is located in the northeast province of Heilongjiang. The report also foresees harsher religious control proposals for 2019.
Main targets – house churches and foreign-affiliated religious venues
According to the document, out of 135 religious activity venues in the city – 125 Protestant, two Catholic, and eight Buddhist – 128 were suppressed last year. House churches, Tibetan Buddhists, and foreign-affiliated religious activities were the primary targets of the crackdown.
The Shuangyashan City Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs, in cooperation with the Public Security Bureau, the State Security Bureau, and other government departments in the city, forcibly shut down three house churches that were affiliated with South Korea: Fuguang Church ((福光教會), Panshi Church (磐石教會), and Yuanlin Church (園林教會).
To ensure that the minors do not participate in religious activities, “Sunday schools and all kinds of gatherings, training programs, and summer camps held by foreign-affiliated religious groups” in the city were investigated and “conversion measures” for students who participate in English training classes at churches were developed and implemented.
The government-approved Three-Self churches, too, have been subjected to stricter control than usual. Some Three-Self church believers have reported that, apart from the requirement to post the new Regulations on Religious Affairs and raise the national flag in churches, the authorities have also carried out inspections of books: All non-government-approved Bibles, hymnbooks and recording were confiscated from the places of worship.
One Three-Self church preacher told Bitter Winter that because he refused to raise the national flag at the church, the local Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs put pressure on him by demanding him to organize believers to sing “red songs,” such as “The East is Red” and “Without the Communist Party, There Would Be No New China.” Threatening to close down the church if the order is not implemented, officials conducted random inspections at irregular intervals to make sure that believers know the songs well enough to sing in unison. Soon after, the Bureau sent a student from a government-run seminary to preach sermons on the topic “how to obey those in power.”
Widely-cast net: orders to collect detailed information
According to the report, in May 2018, a comprehensive investigation into the religious situation in Shuangyashan was conducted, focusing on the format and pattern of religious activities, as well as the number of believers who attend privately-established Christian meeting venues. The investigation also included tasks to visit the neighbors of religious activity venues and local communities, such as village committees, to learn about them “from the side.” A database of religious venues was established with an order to updated information constantly.
As for the underground Catholic meeting venues, the authorities have called for an in-depth investigation into those in charge of the venues, the times of activities, number of believers, ownership of buildings that the places of worship are located in, and whether any “foreign infiltration” exists.
The collection of similar data was required for all Buddhist religious venues, including Tibetan Buddhists. Information about outdoor Buddhist statues and people associated with them in the area was also demanded to be collected.
The authorities also ordered an in-depth investigation into “illegal” religious information online and monitoring of all online religious activities.
Plans to intensify religious persecution in 2019
The religious work report also specifies activities in 2019: City officials “must determine new trends and developments in religious work,” promptly eliminate newly-discovered “illegal activity venues” (mainly house churches), strictly control the approval of religious venues, and “ensure that no new open-air religious statues appear anywhere in the city.”
The plan foresees to put under surveillance all key members of congregations after their places of worship have been closed down and server all possible channels of infiltration by overseas religions.
The document demands to use government-approved churches and “patriotic religious groups,” like the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, to broaden communication channels with underground Catholic churches to “extend the tentacles of guidance on religious affairs” and intensify efforts “to instruct and unite with the underground churches,” with the aim to gradually put them under the national control.