As the UN accuses China of possible crimes against humanity against the Uyghurs, there are signs that a renewed crackdown is also underway against the nation’s churches.
The Chinese authorities have been arresting pastors and shutting down congregations. Partners of Release International have compiled disturbing video evidence of a police raid where Christian women collapsed and others were manhandled.
The crackdown on the church is part of a get-tough policy on religion ordered by President Xi Jinping. His aim is to bring China’s religious minorities under ever-tighter state control.
‘Crimes against humanity’
China’s moves against the church come as the United Nations reports ‘credible evidence’ of torture against the country’s Uyghur minority amounting ‘to crimes against humanity’.
China’s Uyghurs are mainly Muslim, but they include Christians such as Pastor Alimujiang Yimiti. Pastor Yimiti was jailed for 15 years after telling a colleague on the phone that citizens were being monitored by state security.
That phone call had been tapped and he was jailed for ‘inciting separatism’ and ‘leaking state secrets’.
The authorities have forced Alimujiang and other prison inmates to constantly wear headphones tuned into communist propaganda and to memorise what they hear. China stands accused of rounding up a million Uyghurs into internment camps.
Partners and associates of UK-based Release International, which serves the persecuted Church, have been monitoring evidence of the growing crackdown demanded by President Xi Jinping in December last year.
Caught on camera
Following pressure from the top, police raids are being carried out with such ferocity that, according to reports, two women in a single congregation collapsed and had to be taken to hospital.
‘It’s all about control,’ says Paul Robinson, the CEO of Release International. ‘What the Party cannot dominate and control it seeks to eliminate. And it’s getting worse. Our partners tell us that churches in China are facing the toughest persecution since the Cultural Revolution.’
Partners of Release International have compiled disturbing video evidence of raids on Sunshine Reformed Church in Jilin Province.
On August 21, local police raided the Sunday service of the church in Changchun. They burst in and hauled away the pastor, his wife and seven others.
Outside, as congregation members tried to leave, ChinaAid says police beat the Christians, causing two women to lose consciousness.
Church members begged the police to stop the beatings. A woman who challenged a police officer was bundled into a squad car. Another Christian was dragged away by his collar. And a police officer threatened a man who was filming evidence on his cell phone.
Tighter regulations on religion were passed in 2018 and underlined by President Xi in person in December 2021. The Chinese premier called for a more aggressive campaign against so-called ‘illegal’ forms of religion in China.
He insisted churches should be made to ‘adhere to Marxist religious views’ and called for the stricter enforcement of religion laws.
President Xi also strengthened the policy of Sinicization, which mandates that the Church come under the control of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Observers say President Xi wants to force all Protestant Christians to join the government-controlled Three-Self Church. Those who refuse face arrest and the ‘liquidation’ of their unregistered churches.
Church after church has been raided in recent weeks across Beijing, Shaanxi, its neighbouring province Shanxi, as well as the provinces of Jilin and Sichuan.
In just one example on August 19, 100 armed police officers reportedly surrounded Christians at a summer camp for parents and children in Shanxi Province. The police detained adults and searched the homes of several church members, seizing their Christian books and documents.
A report by the US State Department says clergy of all faiths are now required to attend political indoctrination sessions and to pledge allegiance to the CCP.
According to the report, officials have shut down religious venues and intensified their campaign against so-called cults. They have: ‘limited online worship… continued to restrict the printing and distribution of the Bible… removed religious apps from app stores… censored online posts referencing Jesus or the Bible and… destroyed public displays of religious symbols throughout the country.’
Churches that cannot in all conscience come under this ever-tightening state control are typically condemned as cults and their pastors accused of collecting illegal donations. Churches have been evicted from their rented buildings, their leaders arrested, and their members put under surveillance, harassed and detained.
UK-based Release International has launched an appeal to help Christians imprisoned for their faith and driven from their homes due to persecution.
Dong Zhao was forced to flee China with his family in September 2021 and had to travel through 11 countries before finally finding sanctuary in the United States.
Dong told Release International: ‘We had a narrow escape from huge waves. We walked through deep forests. We canoed on rivers full of alligators and saw bodies of many dead people. In Mexico, all our possessions were stolen. To get to the United States we spent 195 days on the road and travelled over 18,890 miles.’
The persecution began for Dong in 2014. He was leading a Bible study in his home when the police burst in and beat him up. A month later, he was talking about the Christian faith on the street shortly before Christmas, when police arrested him, tortured him and kept him in prison for several days.
Dong fled to another city with his family and started a breakfast cafe. But even there, the police monitored his movements.
In 2020, while Dong was hosting a church service at his café, police burst in, beat him and stabbed him in the thumb with a bayonet.
Several months later, they banned anyone from going into the cafe, shut down Dong’s social media accounts and barred his children from going to school. Unable to earn a living, the family were forced to leave China.
‘There are many Christians like Dong, who are suffering intense persecution in countries such as China, Iran, Pakistan and Eritrea,’ says Paul Robinson, CEO of Release International.
‘Many see themselves as having no option but to run for their lives and try to make a new beginning in another country. Release is working with partners on the ground to help these Christians who are forced to leave – and those who are determined to stay.’
More details of the Release International Appeal can be found here
Release International is active in some 30 countries. It works through partners to prayerfully, pastorally, and practically support the families of Christian martyrs, prisoners of faith and their families. It also supports Christians suffering oppression and violence, and those forced to flee.