Authorities in Hebei Province’s Handan city intensify crackdowns on Protestant churches with valid, government-issued religious activity certificates.
by Yang Xiangwen
On July 30, the government of the Fengfeng Mining district in Handan city in the northern province of Hebei demolished a local state-run Three-Self church that could accommodate over 400 believers. Officials claimed that the venue was an “illegal construction” and had to be demolished for engineering works to fix the erosion of a nearby river.
According to congregation members, the church had the required religious activity venue registration certificate. Still, the local government insisted that “it was not enough, because the venue was illegal without an appropriate land-use certificate.”
One of the believers told Bitter Winter that the church director had been applying for the land-use certificate since the church was built in 2004. “The government kept promising to handle the application, but they always delayed approving it,” he explained.
“China is a single-party state, and the government can behave as it pleases: a church can be demolished on any pretext,” the church member said helplessly. “During the Cultural Revolution, churches were razed, and believers were prohibited from gathering. The situation is the same now. Three-Self churches will have no choice but to become house churches to keep their faith.”
“Even with the religious activity venue registration certificate, the government can always put off the approval of other certificates necessary to build a church,” a preacher from Hebei Province said. “For local governments, reducing the number of believers and religious venues is a political achievement. They try every means possible to refuse issuing certificates, but people of faith need places to worship, so they build them. The government can demolish churches as illegal at any time, and believers can do nothing about it.”
On July 6, the Jianzhuang township government in Handan’s Congtai district demolished a Three-Self church that occupied over 600 square meters. According to a congregation member, the church was built in 2015 with nearly one million RMB (about $ 140,000) raised by local Protestants, and it had a valid religious activity venue registration certificate. Regardless, the authorities declared it an “illegal construction” in June and demanded to demolish it.
“The church director repeatedly sought to discuss with the government, hoping to persuade them that a new church could be built before the old one was demolished,” the church member told Bitter Winter. “But they replied that the central government’s policy was to demolish churches and refuse to build new ones.’”
To protect the church, congregation members took turns guarding it. But the government dispersed them, threatening to hold them criminally accountable if they did not cooperate with the government in demolishing churches.
“Where should we gather since the church was demolished?” another church member lamented. “Our only wish is to have a meeting place.”
In Handan’s Fuxing district, a Three-Self church was also destroyed as an “illegal building” on April 15. The decision was taken more than a year ago, and official in charge of the demolition threatened to arrest anyone protesting it. But the congregation managed to postpone the destruction by persistently guarding the church.
A local Religious Affairs Bureau official has reportedly told the congregation that churches are demolished nationwide because “the Communist Party wants to boycott all religions.”