The CCP is strictly controlling state-appointed pastors and preachers, as well as congregation members, limiting their worshiping to the areas where they live.
by An Xin
Bitter Winter has obtained a document entitled Leave of Absence Request and Report-Back System for Persons in Charge of Religious Activity Venues, issued in April by the Religious Affairs Bureau of a locality in northeast China’s Liaoning Province. Similarly to other strict travel control measures for the clergy, according to this new edict, persons in charge of religious venues must apply for a permit from the Bureau three days in advance before leaving the city. Only then can they travel, and must return within the specified time. The persons who leave the area without permission or do not come back as instructed, as well as those whose whereabouts are unknown without an explanation, will be reprimanded and criticized publicly; they may also face more severe punishments.
“The government is exerting rigorous control now. It is afraid that people will preach in another locality,” the legal representative of a Three-Self church in Liaoning said worriedly. “All of our personal information has been registered by the authorities. In the future, I’m afraid we’ll even be restricted from buying train tickets unless approved by the Religious Affairs Bureau.”
Analogous measures have also been adopted elsewhere in the country. In June 2018, a Three-Self church preacher from Xuancheng city in the eastern province of Anhui went to Hubei Province in Central China to attend a meeting. When she returned, officials from the Religious Affairs Bureau questioned and criticized her for going out of town without permission. The officials stated that she would be under observation for half a year; if they discover that she is “disobeying the government,” they will shut down the Three-Self church to which she belongs.
To prevent clergy members from having contacts with foreign religionists, officers from the Public Security Bureau of Tieling city in the northeastern Liaoning Province confiscated the Exit-Entry Permit for Travelling to and from Hong Kong and Macau from an elder of a church. The incident was put on his official record. “All clergy members who travel abroad have a permit. You must report about this to the Public Security Bureau and have it put on record. For fear that we will leave again, they keep an eye on us and won’t let us travel freely. In particular, they won’t let us go to South Korea or the United States, with strict control being imposed.”
According to reports from Three-Self churches in multiple regions, government officials frequently inspect their places of worship to check if believers or preachers from out of town come to attend their gatherings.
On March 4, when personnel from the Religious Affairs Bureau of Jingde county in Anhui’s Xuancheng city arrived at the Three-Self church at Wanli village of Huatan township for an inspection, they discovered four elderly Christians from a neighboring county. They chastised the believers who explained that they crossed the county border just because they like the sermons in this church. The officials said that they had violated the existing regulations and threatened to burn the church if they came back.
In April 2018, a Three-Self church member who resides in Fuzhou city of the southeastern province of Jiangxi invited an out-of-town preacher to her home for a gathering. She was arrested after a tip-off to the police, who later repeatedly interrogated her about her contacts with the invited preacher. The police also confiscated her passport and exit-entry permit for Hong Kong and Macau.
On July 11 last year, officials from the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau of Xiping county of Zhumadian city in the central province of Henan, accompanied by the police, stormed into a local Three-Self church. Hearing that the Christian who was teaching songs had a non-local accent, they escorted him to the police station; he was later fined 1,000 RMB (about $ 145). “You cannot arbitrarily leave, contact or meet with other people. If we discover you doing so again, you will be imprisoned,” police officers warned the Christian.