To keep members of The Church of Almighty God under constant control, the police follow their every move through listening and tracking devices.
by Lu Xiu
After a member of The Church of Almighty God (CAG) from the eastern province of Zhejiang was released from prison in late 2018, where he served time for her faith, she didn’t dare contact her fellow believers. She was even afraid to say hello to them on the street, knowing that she was under constant surveillance.
“I fear it would endanger them,” the believer explained.
One day in March 2019, she noticed two men installing a new camera by the entrance to her house. This was the fourth one installed there.
The police had asked the believer’s mother to persuade her daughter to give up her faith, but she refused, telling them that “there’s no fault in believing in God.” She, too, was suspected of being a Church member and was targeted for investigation and surveillance.
Soon after, the mother found a listening device installed behind a washing machine at home. A few days later, she discovered a micro camera in the garage. When the mother was taken in for interrogation, police officers played a recording of her saying that she was being surveilled at home.
A 19-year-old CAG member was forced to flee home two years ago. In August 2018, the police arrested his father, also a CAG member, and interrogated him for 36 hours nonstop to get information about his wife, son, and sister who were out of town on Church matters.
Though under constant surveillance, the father managed to warn his family members not to return home. Police officers regularly visit him at home, demanding to know where his son, sister, and wife are. He is required to keep his cellphone on 24 hours a day. A tracking device was installed on his scooter and a high-definition camera at the only entrance to his residential community.
Having learned that his father was under strict surveillance, the son removed the SIM card from his phone and logged off his accounts on WeChat and QQ, China’s two most popular messaging platforms. He is afraid to contact his relatives and friends.
In September 2019, the government installed two additional surveillance cameras, next to the four existing, opposite the house of a man in his 80s in the northwestern province of Shaanxi. The new devices point directly at the entrance and stairs of the house that used to be a CAG meeting venue.
Not long after the cameras were installed, a CAG member visited the elderly man. The next day, he was questioned by government personnel. In October, police searched the home of a CAG member who took care of the man. Officers told the woman that they had received information about her through “tracking and monitoring devices.”
In May this year, numerous HD facial recognition cameras were installed in some villages in the northern province of Hebei. Some were purposefully directed at the homes of CAG members. One of the village’s secretary revealed that the devices had been installed to monitor and arrests believers.
Such rampant surveillance of people of faith has become a norm in China, violating their privacy and rights. David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, said in a statement in June last year that “Surveillance tools can interfere with human rights, from the right to privacy and freedom of expression to rights of association and assembly, religious belief, non-discrimination, and public participation. And yet they are not subject to any effective global or national control.” He urged UN member-states to limit the use of such technology, subjecting them to “the strictest sorts of oversight and authorization.”