Hi-tech surveillance equipment is put into use for further control over believers in state-run Three-Self churches in Hubei Province and elsewhere in China.
by Cai Congxin
Bitter Winter has earlier reported that a facial recognition system was installed in a government-controlled Three-Self church in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, to check the identity of anyone who enters the place of worship. Such intrusive surveillance is now being introduced in churches in other locations throughout the country.
On October 6, Muyang Church (literally Shepherding Church) in the central province of Hubei, which is also the home of the Two Chinese Christian Councils of Huangshi city, had two biometric devices set up on its second floor. Since then, congregation members have to stand in line to have their faces and fingerprints scanned before being allowed to enter the church. Around the same time, in the city’s state-run Tian’en Church, facial recognition equipment has been also installed to check the believers who attend gatherings.
A believer revealed to Bitter Winter that over a month ago, the local Two Chinese Christian Councils required all meeting venues established by Three-Self churches in Huangshi city to take believers’ fingerprints and put on file their personal and family information.
The churchgoer is disturbed by the order since the requirement not only puts members of congregations under the government’s constant tracking and surveillance but can also implicate their family members and relatives. He added that those relatives who are civil servants or Communist Party members would be most likely punished or have restrictions imposed on their activities; this can even negatively impact their promotion at work.
According to local believers, since October, multiple state-sanctioned churches in Huangshi started using fingerprint sensors and face scanners to record believers’ attendance at services.
The president of the Two Chinese Christian Councils of Huangshi city explained to believers that congregants’ fingerprint and facial data collection is one of the priorities in the churches’ work this year. She also said that this initiative helps to monitor gatherings at state-run churches and record attendance, warning that those believers who do not have their biometric data in the system will not be allowed into churches in the future.
In late September, members of a Three-Self meeting venue in the Nanzhulin community in Huangshi had their fingerprints taken. The person in charge of the venue told them that all congregants have to have their fingerprints scanned to attend Sunday services. “Just like employees punch in at work,” he explained. “In this way, the church can know clearly who attends the services and who doesn’t.”
A congregation member believes that this is how the government is imposing further control over Three-Self believers all over the country.
Clearly, hi-tech surveillance has become an essential tool for the CCP to regulate and suppress religious belief. Unlike house churches, members of Three-Self churches are seemingly allowed to hold religious gatherings. In reality, though, intrusive surveillance systems, such as the Sharp Eyes Project, have long been introduced into state-run churches, with cameras installed even in washrooms of some places of worship, to ensure comprehensive monitoring.