One of China’s largest “house churches” in Beijing has been threatened with closure by the government following its refusal of a request to install cameras in the church building, reports Reuters.
Zion Church received a letter from the city authorities in April, asking it to install 24 closed-circuit video cameras in the building for “security reasons”.
The church is housed in a large renovated hall in northern Beijing and attracts hundreds of worshipers every Sunday.
“They wanted to put cameras in the sanctuary where we worship. The church decided this was not appropriate … Our services are a sacred time,” Zion’s head pastor, Jin Mingri, told Reuters.
Following the church’s refusal, state security officials and police reportedly started to harass churchgoers, going as far as contacting their workplaces and asking them to promise not to go to church.
The church is now being evicted from the building it occupies, despite assurances from the landlord that it could rent the facility until 2023.
Wang Yu, a prominent rights lawyer who has defended Christians and who was recently baptised in Zion Church, said she feared the situation would get worse, “given the authorities have started describing the church as a ‘cult’ when pressuring churchgoers”.
In one of its statements, Zion also said authorities have called the church a cult, according to Reuters.
“Being labelled a cult was how it all started for the Falun Gong in 1999,” Wang said, referring to the spiritual movement the Communist Party banned that year.
‘Praising the Communist Party’
Under President Xi Jinping, China’s government has sought to increase control over religious affairs.
In February revised religious regulations came into force and, where implemented, churches have started to face increased pressure to ‘sinicise’ — to be Chinese in orientation – culturally and in its submission to the authority of the Communist Party.
This involves burning of crosses and replacing them with the Chinese flag, showing slogans praising the Communist Party and the values of socialism in religious buildings, and the removal of sacred images that are seen as “too Western”, according to a report by AsiaNews, referring to incidents in several provinces.
In Shangrao, a city in Jiangxi province, at least 40 churches were forced to display banners that forbid foreigners from preaching, and anyone under 18 from attending, the news site said.
It added that in Shenyang, in Liaoning province, and Xuzhou in Jiangsu province, “dozens of domestic churches have been closed … forcing communities to join the Three-Self Movement, the official government-controlled Protestant community.”
Meanwhile, on 26 August the Communist Party published revised regulations for its own members, including a clause for those who are religious.
“Party members who have religious belief should have strengthened thought education. If they still don’t change after help and education from the party organisation, they should be encouraged to leave the party,” the new rules say, Reuters reported.
The rules also warn that those who attend “activities that use religion for incitement” face expulsion.