The crackdown on Christian churches in China continues and now it appears to have claimed one of Beijing’s largest unofficial Protestant “house” churches.
The Zion church has operated with relative freedom for years, hosting hundreds of worshippers every weekend in an expansive, specially renovated hall in north Beijing.
Last April, that “freedom” began to shrink when government authorities asked the church to install 24 closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in the building for “security,” Zion’s head pastor, Jin Mingri, told Reuters.
Mingri refused, saying cameras in a sanctuary are not appropriate. Pastor Mingri and his congregants may have also feared what government officials, who are showing growing hostility towards Christians, would do with video evidence of who attends services.
The Chinese government says greater oversight of religious activities is needed in order to regulate believers and facilitate worship, as well as to prevent foreign forces from influencing China’s internal affairs using the guise of religion.
So it’s not surprising that when Zion refused the request to place cameras in the sanctuary, police and state security agents started harassing churchgoers, calling them, visiting them, contacting their workplace and asking them to promise not to go to church, according to statements from the church and interviews with attendees, as reported by Reuters.
Some suggest the government is now making sure the church shuts down.
The Zion church, which occupies an office building floor that was previously a nightclub, is now being evicted despite previous verbal assurances from its landlord that it could rent the location until 2023, Jin said. Reuters said the landlord could not be reached for comment.
Jin does not expect to be able to find a landlord that would rent the church another suitable location.
Other churches have experienced similar harassment. In addition to being asked to install security cameras, some unofficial churches have been asked by police to take detailed lists of attendee IDs and phone numbers, churchgoers and activists say.
Some who push back have been visited by police and asked to switch places of worship to officially sanctioned churches, they added.
China’s constitution guarantees religious freedom, but since President Xi Jinping took office in 2012, Beijing has tightened restrictions on religions seen as a challenge to the authority of the ruling Communist Party.
The new regulations have increased government pressure on the churches to “sinicize”—to be culturally Chinese and submit to oversight from the Communist Party—but many have resisted, saying this would be a fundamental betrayal of their faith.
“House churches believe that our spiritual needs and the content of our faith is ruled over by God,” Pastor Jin said.
“What we need is the freedom to believe. Without this, it is not real faith.”