Authorities Shut Down Ethnic Minority Church in China's Yunnan

The move comes as pastors across the country are detained in the wake of stricter curbs on religious groups.
2021-05-05
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Authorities Shut Down Ethnic Minority Church in China's Yunnan A screenshot is shown from the Twitter feed of the Chinese Christian Righteous Fellowship, May 2, 2021.
Screenshot from video

Authorities in the southwestern province of Yunnan have shut down a Protestant church attended by an ethnic minority community, while pastors and church elders have been detained in Beijing and Guiyang.

Officials shut down the Bulai Protestant church, ostensibly to prevent COVID-19 transmission, in Lao Muden village in Yunnan's Fugong county on April 30, according to photos of the notices plastered to its doors.

But the fact that the church has been allowed to meet all through the pandemic has raised questions over whether the closure is part of a renewed crackdown on religious activity based on a recently published set of "Administrative Measures For Religious Personnel" that took effect from May 1.

U.S.-based pastor Liu Yi, who founded the Chinese Christian Justice Fellowship, said the rules seek to exert further control by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) over the day-to-day running of religious organizations.

"The new administrative measures set out higher requirements for the so-called Chinese religious staff who are under [CCP] management," Liu told RFA.

Article 3 of the document states that religious personnel should "love the motherland, support the leadership of the CCP, and support the socialist system."

They must also adhere to "the core values of socialism" and the "sinicization of religion" under the CCP, it says.

"Under the control of the CCP, many so-called Protestant pastors and preachers have consciously adopted the party’s position," Liu said. "Their pulpits have become platforms for CCP propaganda."

"For example, a sermon given to a church in a certain place in Zhejiang was circulating [online]," Liu said. "It was very telling, because the preacher wasn't expounding on the Bible, but carrying out propaganda for the CCP."

Climate 'worse and worse'

Pastor Zhang Chongzhu, who currently lives in Illinois after working for a church in Zhejiang's Wenzhou city for many years, said Liu's assessment was correct.

"The climate for religious believers in China is getting worse and worse," Zhang said. "There has been a marked turn in political thinking to the left, with the emergence of ideas even worse than during the Cultural Revolution."

"They started laying the groundwork for this a few years ago," Zhang said. "Now, the new religious rules call for the setting up of a [CCP-backed] priesthood, so it's a serious problem."

Zhang cited the recent detentions of Protestant pastors in Beijing and the southwestern city of Guiyang.

Bob Fu, president of the Christian rights group ChinaAid, said authorities recently detained two elders of Zion Church in Beijing, while elder Zhang Chunlei of the Renai Church in Guiyang was recently held under criminal detention on suspicion of "fraud," following a short period in administrative detention.

Zhang's detention came after he reportedly resisted singing patriotic songs in church, Fu said.

"This series of actions, together with the new regulations on the management of religious personnel promulgated by the State Council of China on May 1, indicate that there will be even more restraints on religious freedom in China under the leadership of Xi Jinping," Fu told RFA.

Donations called fraud

Zhang Chunlei's defense lawyer Sui Muqing said police are accusing Zhang of fraud in connection with donations to the church.

"The church basically doesn't carry out any financial transactions, so this charge of so-called fraud is linked to members' donations," Sui said. "The elders and co-workers receive a living allowance from these donations."

"This happens in all religions, and it doesn't constitute fraud."

Meanwhile, a member of the Zion Church surnamed Li told RFA that one of the detained elders, lay preacher Huang Chunzi, had been incommunicado since April 28.

"She messaged that someone was knocking at her door," Li said. "Two or three days later, another person was arrested, at which point we realized that Huang Chunzi was gone, too."

"We eventually received confirmation from various sources that she had been detained."

Also detained was Zion Church preacher Qi Jiafu.

"Things are very dangerous right now," Li said. "They are detaining people from churches all over."

"They tightened controls in 2018, and again in 2019," she said. "Basically you're not allowed to meet in person now."

Reported by Qiao Long and Sun Cheng for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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