‘In all conscience, Britain cannot put trade before human rights.’
There has been a seven-fold rise in the persecution of Christians in China since 2008, according to a report by a partner of UK-based Release International.
The report claims China is seeking ‘complete control over the nation’s churches’ with the aim of replacing ‘Christ as the head of the church with submission to the Communist Party’. To that end, China has increased its crackdown on Christians and churches, especially house churches.
‘Our partners China Aid have meticulously documented attacks against Christians and churches in China,’ says Paul Robinson, Chief executive of Release, which serves persecuted Christians worldwide.
‘They have found that religious persecution, especially of house church Christians, is increasing in severity. They document a seven-fold rise in persecution since 2008.
‘Last October, the UK hosted a state visit by the Chinese Premier. Release urges David Cameron to use his developing relationship with Xi Jinping to press for full religious freedom in China and an end to persecution. In all conscience, Britain cannot put trade before human rights.’
China has a long history of attempting to bring the rapidly growing church under the control of the atheist state. Since the downturn in the Chinese economy, which has revealed yawning inequalities, the state has been cracking down on churches, Christians and others for fear of unrest.
This includes the arrest of Christian human rights lawyers for mounting a legal campaign against the tearing down of hundreds of Christian crosses from churches. Among them, leading Christian lawyer Zhang Kai, who was forced to publicly confess to crimes against the state on television.
China Aid has documented an increase in persecution of 4.74 per cent in the past year. Over the last nine years the arrest and harassment of Christians in China has been rising. Persecution rates are now 709.94 per cent worse than in 2008. And while fewer Christians are being sent to jail, more are being harassed, beaten and even tortured, the report claims.
In one province alone, Zheijang, the Release partner has independently verified that ‘by the end of 2015, more than 20 churches had been forcibly demolished, 1,300 crosses removed, more than 500 Christians taken into police custody, at least 130 Christians physically injured, more than 60 Christians administratively or criminally detained, and at least 28 pastors and Christians arrested or charged with a crime.’
Churches have been closed and in some areas Christians have taken to worshipping in the open-air under the eye of the authorities – hence the Release Great Outdoors Church Service initiative on May 29.
‘Release urges Christians in the UK to stand in solidarity with our Chinese brothers and sisters, and those in other nations where churches have been demolished,’ says Paul Robinson of Release.
‘We’re encouraging Christians throughout the UK and Ireland to take part in the Great Outdoors Church Service on May 29 by holding some or all of your service in the open air. This is an opportunity to pray for and remember our Christian brothers and sisters everywhere who are being forced out of their churches.’
Through its international network of missions Release serves persecuted Christians in 30 countries around the world, by supporting pastors and Christian prisoners, and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles, and working for justice. Release is a member of the UK organisations Global Connections and the Evangelical Alliance.
EXTRACTS OF CHINA AID REPORT
China Aid 2015 Annual Report
Chinese Government Persecution of
Christians and Churches in China
January – December 2015
In 2015, the deterioration of religious freedom and human rights in China continued at an alarming rate, while the erosion of the rule of law was the worst it’s been since the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution. President Xi Jinping’s administration, in its third year in power, carried out an unprecedented crackdown on religious leaders, human rights defenders, lawyers, dissidents and civil society actors.
Xi began purging high-ranking political and military figures. To maintain unity outside the party, the CPC intensified its crackdown on religious practitioners, human rights activists and lawyers.
Furthermore, the first significant decline in decades of China’s stock market created a staggering gap between rich and poor.
In the harshest crackdown since the crushing of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student-led protests, victims of the current regime come from every social class, as authorities sought to eradicate political rivals, dissidents, intellectuals and human rights defenders and lawyers.
Most notably, on July 9-10, the CPC took various legal measures against an estimated 350 human rights lawyers and activists in 23 provinces and cities across the country, and arrested dozens of them on the charge of “instigating the subversion of political power”.
At a conference of the United Front Work Department on May 18-20, 2015, Xi gave a speech on religion in China in which he said, “Management of religion is in essence management of the masses.”
He also stressed the “need to… guide religion to make it serve the purpose of promoting economic development, social harmony, cultural prosperity, ethnic unity and the unification of China.”
In 2015, all government departments intensified their suppression of so-called “cults” and house churches, the most severe of which were the moves against Christianity in Zhejiang province, where central and local government departments destroyed approximately 90 per cent of the province’s church crosses and demolished numerous churches.
Throughout this campaign, dozens of church leaders were arrested or sentenced, and three lawyers, including prominent human rights lawyer Zhang Kai, were taken into police custody for their opposition to the demolitions.
As the cross demolition campaign swept across Zhejiang, government departments that manage religious affairs launched a series of campaigns targeting churches.
Persecution in 2015 was most intense in the provinces and autonomous regions of Zhejiang, Guangdong, Guizhou, Guangxi, Sichuan, Xinjiang and Tibet as the government forcibly shut down house churches, detained large numbers of pastors, church leaders and Christians, and confiscated church property. Schools were forbidden to engage in any religious activities or celebrate religious holidays, and authorities even closed down numerous summer camps and Sunday schools organised by churches and warned schools not to participate in religious activities or celebrate religious holidays. At colleges and universities, students and faculty were required to fill out questionnaires to report their religious beliefs.
Religious persecution, especially of house church Christians, was the most severe it has ever been.
The total was 4.74 per cent higher in 2015 than in 2014. Looking at the statistics from earlier China Aid annual reports shows a trend of increased persecution over the past nine years.
The continued escalation in both the scale and intensity of religious persecution in 2015 surpassed that of 2014.
The Chinese government’s persecution of its own government-sanctioned Three-Self Church continued to rival abuse not seen since the Cultural Revolution, most prominently in the widespread forced demolition of churches and crosses throughout Zhejiang province and a number of other provinces. Persecution of the house church movement also continued to intensify.
- Christians in Zhejiang province face continued forced cross demolitions
According to information provided by Christian leaders in Zhejiang that China Aid was able to independently verify, by the end of 2015, more than 20 churches had been forcibly demolished, 1,300 crosses removed, more than 500 Christians taken into police custody, at least 130 Christians physically injured, more than 60 Christians administratively or criminally detained, and at least 28 pastors and Christians arrested or charged with a crime.
The actual scope of persecution may be even wider than reflected by these statistics. Some church leaders estimate that at least 1,500 crosses were forcibly removed, 30 churches demolished, mostly in rural areas, and the government imposed measures, including detention, on at least 1,000 Christians who protested or tried to prevent the destruction of crosses or churches.
In the harshest attack on Christians in Wenzhou since the cross demolitions began in 2014, Wenzhou police in late August responded to the growing opposition to the cross demolitions by taking into custody as many as 20 rights defence lawyers, pastors and elders across the city. More than 10 police scaled church walls on August 25 to apprehend human rights lawyer Zhang Kai and his assistants Liu Peng and Fang Xiangui, who had provided legal counsel to more than 100 churches targeted by the cross demolition campaign.
- The CPC [Communist Party of China] expands persecution of urban house churches throughout China
In 2015, the CPC continued its crackdown on unregistered churches by persecuting house churches and house church Christians, with the harshest persecution inflicted on those in China’s south, southwest, and northwest.
Rapid metropolitan growth across China has resulted in ever-larger numbers of house churches.
In Guangdong province, at least 1,000 small churches or meeting sites have emerged in the past three years. Likewise, the number of house churches in Beijing has increased by at least 100 new churches.
The Chinese government, which has always feared the spontaneous assembly of people that it cannot control, views this rapid growth of urban house churches throughout China with alarm and regards religious organisations as the most difficult to control.
Therefore, the government has intensified its suppression of fast growing urban house churches by 1) forcibly shutting down and banning house churches and their meeting sites; 2) requiring them to disband, then apply for official registration and join the [official] Three-Self Church; 3) exerting pressure through city inspectors, neighbourhood committees and the police to force landlords to terminate leases with house churches; 4) taking pastors and other church leaders into custody for public security or criminal offenses, and raiding and confiscating church property; and 5) other means including subpoenas, fines, intimidation and cutting off water and electricity.
Other crackdown examples
A non-Christian publisher who printed textbooks on moral character that were written by Christians was sentenced to one year, nine months in prison … kindergartens were closed… a Christian summer camp for 100 children shut down… six students who met for prayer in a college faced expulsion… two Christians who sang hymns in their homes were placed under administrative detention… Christians convicted of belonging to ‘a cult’.
In short, the CPC’s persecution and suppression of house churches continued to escalate in 2015 as authorities continued implementing a plan initiated in 2011 to thoroughly investigate and then “wipe out house churches in 10 years.”
As the above shows, throughout 2015, the CPC used law enforcement measures to intensify its persecution of rural house churches, resulting in a dramatic increase in the number of detained Christians. Persecution in the guise of accusations of cult activities became common, and pressure on house churches to either join the Three-Self Church or face closure increased.
iii. The CPC advances its campaign to “Sinicise” Christianity
These covered various aspects of church life, including the architectural style of church buildings, church management systems and the building of a theology with Chinese characteristics.
The cross demolition campaign across Zhejiang province was the local government’s way of carrying out the call to “localise religion.” Local authorities felt that crosses atop Gothic-style church buildings clashed with traditional Chinese architecture.
The Xi Administration has raised the issue of religion to a threat to national security, and the government, therefore, will push the “Sinicisation of Christianity in China” even more.
2015 was a year in which the CPC intensified its suppression of churches and Christians. Persecution of Three-Self churches and house churches alike was the worst it has been since the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.
The Chinese government’s attitude towards Christianity was clearly shown to the world in its demolition of churches and crosses across multiple locales. Detaining and sentencing church pastors, church leaders and evangelists on criminal charges were meant to intimidate believers and curb burgeoning church growth.
Confiscating church property and fining Christians was an attempt to financially ruin churches, while portraying house churches as cults was intended to disrupt and sever the churches’ normal relations with the rest of society.
Finally, under the guise of the campaign to Sinicise Christianity, the CPC seeks to strip Christianity of its universality and to replace the sacred principle of “Christ as the head of the church” with submission to the CPC.
In 2015, China Aid collected information on 634 cases of persecution across the country, an increase of 10.84 per cent from 2014. The 19,426 people who were persecuted represented an8.62 per cent increase from the previous year. The 3,178 people who were arrested or summoned for questioning was 6.15 per cent more than in the previous year, and the 232 people sentenced to prison was 81.79 per cent fewer than in 2014.
Cases of verbal, mental and physical abuse, including torture, totalled 195 and involved 463 people, increases of 174.65 per cent and 91.32 per cent, respectively from the previous year.
[Persecution rates are now] 709.94 per cent worse than in 2008.
Other faiths persecuted
Although Tibetan Buddhism and Islam are not the focus of this report, followers of those religions likely experienced even more intense government persecution, for instance, in predominantly Muslim Xinjiang, bans on hijabs for women and long beards for men.
Legal and other protests
[There was] widespread public opposition to the government’s brutal cross demolitions. These included large-scale fasting and praying by Christians everywhere, believers tying themselves to crosses, street protests of Christians holding small wooden crosses, church members re-erecting downed crosses, and even Christians physically fighting the government’s cross demolition efforts.
One of the most notable responses was the July 24 open letter by some pastors entitled, “Still for the sake of the faith – an open letter to churches all over China calling for prayer about the forced demolition of churches and crosses in Zhejiang.”
Using the law to defend their rights was another noteworthy response to 2015’s government persecution. The government responded by arresting many of these human rights lawyers.
Many Christians came to believe that the Chinese constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom is meaningless and that the true intent of the government is complete control over China’s churches.
The above is a selected extract of the report by Release International’s partner, China Aid. The full report can be found here: http://www.chinaaid.org/2016/05/china-aid-releases-2015-annual-report.html