Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have ordered a large Protestant church to close, while officials in Henan say they will begin demolishing any church buildings not approved by the government, RFA has learned.
The Shekou One Country International Church in Guangdong’s Shenzhen city was visited for a fire and safety inspection two weeks ago, and has now been sealed off by the Futian district police and fire department’s inspection department.
The move isn’t the first time the 3,000-member church has been forced out of its premises. It was previously forced to relocate after police put pressure on the landlord to evict it from its headquarters in Shekou, later holding large-scale gatherings for worship in a movie theater in Nanshan district.
Now, the church’s new premises near Futian’s Chegong Temple have been sealed off, with an “order of premises closure” pasted to the doors.
“Anyone found breaking these seals or other otherwise making use of premises sealed off by police and fire services will be liable for administrative detention of 10-15 days’ duration,” the notice warns.
The church is currently led by a U.S. national, a pastor known as Bill, a church member who asked not to be identified told RFA. Its members have been meeting weekly on Fridays in the building for prayers and worship for the past five years.
“Now that the Chegong Temple venue has been shut down, they will go to to the Nanyou Movie Theater to hold their meetings instead,” the church member said.
The church is called “International” for a reason: around one third of its members hail from Europe, the United States, Australia, the Philippines, and other Southeast Asian countries.
Local Chinese members are typically migrant workers in factories in and around the Pearl River Delta cities of Shenzhen and Zhuhai.
Red flags required
Meanwhile, authorities in the central Chinese province of Henan have fined a Protestant “house church” in Zhangde village, Yuzhou city 20,000 yuan, saying their premises are in breach of building and safety regulations.
Officials from the Zhangde village government say the church failed to obtain the required permissions when building the venue, making it an “illegal structure.”
“The Yingbilicun house church recently built its own meeting venue, but the religious affairs bureau of the local government is saying that they didn’t register the church with them when they were building it,” a church member who asked to remain anonymous told RFA.
“Now they want to fine them 20,000 yuan or they won’t be able to open the church,” he said. “I heard that they won’t be allowed to have a cross inside the church, but will have to display red flags instead.”
The Yingbilicun church member said the authorities had begun forcing churches to display red flags, to represent the ruling Chinese Communist Party, back in June.
“All of the churches that belong to the Three-Self Patriotic Association have red flags in them,” he said, in a reference to the government-backed ruling body for Protestant Christians in China. “They hang up red flags and sing the national anthem.”
He said the authorities have warned that they plan to demolish any church premises not registered with the local authorities after the Chinese New Year holiday.
“If they haven’t gotten a church premises permit from the bureau of religious affairs, they will be demolished, and regarded as illegal gatherings,” the church member said.
Chinese authorities “physically abused, detained, arrested, tortured, sentenced to prison, or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups,” the U.S. State Department said in an annual report released last August.
It said authorities in the eastern province of Zhejiang also continued a campaign begun in 2014 to tear down Christian structures, including 600 crosses destroyed by the end of the year, while several church leaders resisting the demolition were detained and prosecuted.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.