As more government officials in China are empowered to close churches and a “social credit” system threatens to block Christians from schools, bank loans and jobs, authorities have taken harsh measures against more churches, sources said.
In Beijing, Early Rain Covenant Church elder Qin Defu was sentenced to four years in prison on Nov. 29, according to advocacy group China Aid Association (CAA). Qin was charged with illegal business operations as a result of the church using 20,000 Christian books, according to CAA.
Authorities had promised his family that he would be released if he accepted a state-appointed attorney, the group stated.
The charge on which Qin was sentenced could signal a stiff sentence for Pastor Wang, who has been charged with both “inciting subversion of the state” and illegal business practices after being arrested more than a year ago.
“Qin’s attorney said the church’s pastor, Wang Yi, admitted in a testimony that he was involved with these books,” CAA reported. “As such, the lawyer speculated Wang would receive no less than a 10-year sentence.”
Authorities on Dec. 9, 2018 arrested Pastor Wang and more than 100 members of Early Rain Covenant Church; most of them have been released, while Pastor Wang’s wife and child remain under house arrest.
In Shanghai, authorities raided Wheat Church on Dec. 1, broke up the unregistered body’s worship service and ejected members, accusing them of conducting religious activities at an unapproved venue, according to CAA.
The 200 Christians refused to leave, remaining outside in the cold as they sang and worshipped, according to CAA.
The actions are part of progressively harsher measures against Christianity and other faiths deemed a threat to the rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since Xi Jinping became president in 2013. New religion regulations introduced in 2017 greatly expand the number of government departments that can enforce restrictions on religious practice, an attorney in China told The Epoch Times.
“Under the previous law, only the Religious Affairs Bureau would enforce religious restrictions,” the unidentified attorney told the news outlet. “Under the new law, every layer of government can regulate religious affairs. The fact that there are so many more officials cracking down on unregistered churches puts tremendous pressure on the members of those churches. As part of this crackdown, Chinese Christians are facing the most persecution since the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.”
In ultra-nationalist efforts to stop ordinary citizens from engaging in religion and other activities deemed a threat to CCP control, China has installed 20 million surveillance cameras with advanced facial recognition software to collect data for the purpose of establishing a “social credit” system to monitor perceived loyalty and dissent, Elizabeth Kendal of the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin notes, citing author Willy Wo-Lap Lam in his book, “The Fight for China’s Future.”
The system is expected to be fully operational in 2020, but Kendal notes that non-compliant Christians and others, such as human rights attorneys, already find they cannot travel as negative social credit prevents them from purchasing a train ticket.
“The days are coming when whole Christian families will find themselves unable to access not merely transport, but schools, hospitals, bank loans and jobs,” she writes.