Persecution against Christians in China is rising significantly, following tough new restrictions on religious freedom that came into force across the country six months ago.
The new Regulations for Religious Affairs tighten up on the registration and control of religious organisations. They give more power to local officials to approve the activities of churches and decide their fate. But although persecution was happening before these rules, since their implementation it has become worse.
According to Release International, which supports Christians under pressure around the world, partners have reported a five-fold increase in the number of Christians facing harassment from the authorities.
As well as closing churches, the authorities have destroyed them, torn down their crosses, arrested and imprisoned their pastors, and detained lawyers trying to represent them in the courts.
Preachers have been prevented from giving sermons, while officials have cut power to a church and forced churches to display the Chinese flag. On August 17, government officials demolished a 268-year-old church in Shandong without explanation. 170 officers broke into the church and razed the entire building.
The previous day, more than 20 policemen and Religious Affairs Bureau officials broke into a church in China’s central Henan province and hauled away many of the Christians gathered there. They pushed a woman to the ground and knocked a child off a chair.
Also, as part of the crackdown, churches across the country are facing pressure to openly display their allegiance to the Communist Party, while some churches have been forced to install face-recognition technology to spy on their congregations.
According to Release partner Bob Fu, the persecution of Christians in China is now at the highest level since the Cultural Revolution — yet the number of Christians keeps on growing in the country.
He told the Washington Times earlier this year, ‘We documented persecution against 1,265 churches, and 223,000 people’. Of those, 3,700 Christians were arrested. ‘That is just the tip of the iceberg,’ he said.
Release has launched a petition calling for the new religious restrictions to be repealed, which can be signed online at the Release International website.