Qiao Long, Wong Siu-san and Lam Kwok-lap | Radio Free Asia
The ruling Chinese Communist Party’s crackdown on Protestant churches continued on Thursday with warnings to churches in several provinces that they should shut down and the demolition of property funded by believers.
A Christian church follower in the eastern province of Jiangxi said that a church of more than 200 members in Jinxian county had recently been ordered to close down.
“The Supreme Love group in Jinxian county received [the warning] last month. Believers there told me that they have been harassed by the government and told not to hold gatherings any more,” the church member said.
“But they carried on meeting, and now they have been threatened,” the church member said. “They hold their services in a village, maybe 200 or 300 people at a time.”
Meanwhile, religious affairs officials in the southeastern province of Fujian ordered a church in Nanping city to register with the government-approved Three Self Patriotic Association of Protestant churches.
An anonymous source in the area told RFA that the county religious affairs bureau had told members they were banned from holding meetings in each other’s homes.
In the port city of Xiamen, authorities shut down a kindergarten built and fully funded by the city’s Xunsiding church.
Video of the incident seen by RFA showed a number of parents and children at the gates of the kindergarten, singing and praying in apparent protest.
Local sources said the church had received notification from the religious affairs bureau and the education bureau saying that the kindergarten hadn’t obtained the necessary approvals before opening its doors.
Retirement home torn down
And in the southern province of Guangdong, authorities in Luhe county near Shanwei city shut down an old people’s home set up and run by the Baishitang Church.
“The church spent hundreds of thousands of yuan on building this old people’s’ home,” a Protestant church member who asked to remain anonymous told RFA on Thursday.
“The Shanwei authorities sent out 200-300 riot police to demolish it,”the church member said. “They would sometimes hold church services in the old people’s home.”
The church member said that local leaders had threatened the church, warning them not to lodge official complaints or hire a lawyer, on pain of detention.
“So they didn’t dare to hire a lawyer in the end, and the whole affair has been left unresolved,” the church member said.
On Monday, authorities in the southwestern province of Guizhou also ordered local Protestant believer Yan Hengping to stop holding meetings for prayer and worship in his home town in Guizhou’s Dafang county.
“We have run into problems, but it’s not the whole church, just one branch of it,” Yan told RFA. “It’s not a large branch, just a few dozen people.”
Memorial service raided
Last Saturday, police in the southwestern province of Sichuan detained a large group of Christians after they gathered for a memorial service on the 10th anniversary of the devastating 2008 earthquake.
Police raided the planned earthquake memorial service at the church in Jiangxin Mansions on Chengdu’s Taisheng North Road on Saturday morning, detaining all worshipers at the venue and putting them onto two buses, church members told RFA.
The U.S. State Department hit out at the raid in a statement this week.
“We are deeply concerned by the Chinese government’s reported harassment of the Early Rain Covenant Church,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.
“The United States government joins the people of China in mourning the loss of tens of thousands of lives in the tragedy, and notes the value of memorializing their lives and calling for full accountability to prevent or mitigate future disasters,” Nauert said.
“Regarding reports that Chinese authorities confiscated bibles, we call on China to uphold its international commitments to promote respect for religious freedom for all persons.”
Early Rain Covenant Church pastor Wang Yi, who was taken away by Qingyang district police in the provincial capital Chengdu late on Friday, told RFA that the operation was led by state security police, backed up by the local religious affairs bureau.
“It was mostly led by the state security police within the police department, but other departments were involved, including the cultural affairs bureau … which confiscated 15,600 volumes of books and pamphlets from us,” Wang said in an interview on Wednesday.
“I registered a complaint to say that the entire process was illegal, and that we wanted the publications back,” he said. “They have to reply to me within seven days.”
Officials who answered the phone at the cultural affairs bureau and the religious affairs bureau of the Chengdu municipal government declined to comment on the case when contacted by RFA on Wednesday.
China is home to an estimated 68 million Protestants, of whom 23 million worship in state-affiliated churches, and some nine million Catholics, 5.7 million of whom are in state-sponsored organizations.
But the ruling Chinese Communist Party, which embraces atheism, exercises tight control over any form of religious practice among its citizens.
The administration of President Xi Jinping regards Christianity as a dangerous foreign import, with officials warning against the “infiltration of Western hostile forces” in the form of religion.