Backed by new regulation, China cracks down on house churches

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

An official document from
Henan ordering a
government department to
notify all house churches of
the new regulations.
(Photo: China Aid)
China Aid
Reported in Chinese by Qiao Nong. Translated by Carolyn Song. Written in English by Brynne Lawrence.

(Jiaozuo, Henan—Oct. 12, 2016) In an unprecedented move, administrative offices in China’s central Henan province convened a meeting on Aug. 31 to discuss targeting unauthorized Catholic and Protestant churches and force them to comply with Party regulations.

Just a few days prior to the State Council’s issuance of a draft proposing changes to the Regulations on Religious Affairs, various state-run departments in a county of Jiaozuo, Henan, gathered on Aug. 31 and addressed China’s rapidly growing network of Catholic and Protestant house churches.

According to government department head Tai Xuchen, the meeting’s purpose was to divide the responsibility of regulating house churches, disposing of “illegal” religious institutions in order to protect people who take part in “legal” religious activities and maintain the stability and order of religions. In order to accomplish this, he emphasized the necessity of stringent regulations, claiming, “The frequent emergence of private religious sites in our county disrupts the legal religious activities.”

To accomplish this, these departments set forth a four-step series of objectives, each to be met within a specified time limit. The first objective, which was slated to occur from Sept. 4-5, consisted of local government departments identifying Catholic and Protestant house churches and submitting a list of them to their superiors. From Sept. 5-16, village and sub-district departments assisted the religious affairs bureaus in issuing notices to the specified churches, demanding that they make personalized changes within a certain time period. On Sept. 11-30, government personnel were ordered to close all churches that refused to comply with their commands. Finally, from Oct. 1-15, officials are to review and transcribe their success rate, which is to be included in their year-end review.

This campaign echoes the new political trend set out in a revision of China’s Regulations on Religious Affairs, which was introduced by the State Council in early September. The revision introduces tighter control on peaceful religious activities, such as punishing house church meetings by imprisoning Christians or heavily fining church leaders, forbidding religious adherents from attending conferences or trainings abroad and barring minors from receiving religious education.

These measures violate China’s own Constitution, which claims to guarantee religious liberty and condemns discriminating against religious and non-religious citizens. Additionally, it breaches the country’s pledges to adhere to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In response to this law, a group of human rights lawyers mailed a document to Wang Zuo’an, the bureau chief of the National Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau, pointing out instances where the document contradicts constitutionally sanctioned rights to religious freedom and offering their suggestions to the law.

After news of this nationwide campaign broke, Christians in Henan began to suspect a connection between the new local regulations and the proposed changes. According to a local Christian, “What we see now is not simply one bureau department or even a whole bureau’s [plan]. They have already had many years to prepare. Ever since Wang Zuo’an became the bureau chief of the National Religious Affairs Bureau, they haven’t taken any major actions, but, it has become more and more apparent that he has been gathering a network and using these many years to investigate, energetically doing the work of researching through the coordinated efforts of every government department. [His research] included experiments in the Zhejiang province and demolishing crosses, which were completed according to plan. Now, they are just releasing the religious regulations to formally enact [his experiments nationwide].”

Translations of leaked documents detailing the plan for Henan’s local house church crackdown are forthcoming.

China Aid exposes abuses, such as those enacted against unofficial Protestant and Catholic house churches, in order to stand in solidarity with Chinese Christians and promote religious freedom in China.

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