Local officials are pressuring members of a house church in southern China’s Shenzhen city to relocate only 20 days after they moved into their current location, the congregation’s pastor and the property owner said Tuesday.
“We had once congregated in the Bantian area, but community officials pressured our landlord, asking us to move out,” said Zhao Jianjun, pastor of the Zhongfu Gangtou church.
“We then moved into our current location, also near Bantian, two weeks ago. But now the street committee has spoken with our new landlord, telling him not to lease his property to us.”
Zhao said he met with the street committee to ask them why they had told the landlord to force the congregation out.
“I went to the street committee to ask their reason, and they were very rude in talking to me. One of the office heads said, ‘Are there even any Christian believers left in Shenzhen now?’”
“I told him that there are many and that the members of our group are all Christian believers.”
“I was angry at this undisguised discrimination, and quarreled with them,” the pastor said.
Phone calls to the street committee office went unanswered on Tuesday.
Zhao Jianjun said the landlord had faced intimidation by local officials.
“The officials at the street level and above requested the landlord kick us out. Otherwise, they said they would seal off his property,” Zhao said.
The pastor said that he had already signed a two-year lease with the landlord.
“Now the landlord said he must unilaterally scrap the lease. I told him that he had nothing to fear and that we could deal with [the officials] together,” he said.
“We didn’t violate any law and they don’t have the right to punish us.”
On Tuesday, RFA’s Mandarin service spoke with the landlord, surnamed Chen, by telephone.
Chen confirmed that he had been pressured by the authorities.
“Officials from the street committee, the village, and the village chief himself, all came over to speak with me, telling me not to rent my house to the church,” he said.
“I also consider their demands to be unreasonable, but we have no power to confront them,” Chen said, adding that the church could only operate on his property if it became officially registered.
“This is where I live. You can’t understand what kind of pressure I have been suffering under,” Chen said.
In a recent crackdown on house churches in the Shenzhen area, authorities have charged Christian groups with “engaging in illegal religious activities” and demanded that they register along with other officially-sanctioned “patriotic churches.” Many church members have refused to do so.
House churches, which operate without official registration documents and without the involvement of the local religious affairs bureaus, come in for surveillance and repeated raids, especially in the more rural areas of the country, according to overseas rights groups.
The State Department’s 2011 Religious Freedom Report that reviewed the situation across the globe last year slammed China, saying there was a “marked deterioration” in Beijing’s respect for and protection of religious rights in the world’s most populous nation.
It cited increased restrictions on Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns and clampdowns on religious practices as well as “severe” repression of Muslim Uyghurs in the volatile Xinjiang region.
Officially an atheist country, China nonetheless has an army of officials whose job is to watch over faith-based activities, which have spread rapidly.
Party officials are put in charge of Catholics, Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, and Protestants. Judaism isn't recognized and worship in nonrecognized temples, churches, or mosques is against the law.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Arthur Tang.