Labor Camp Threat to Christians

'House church' members in China are being pressured to join a Communist Party backed church group.
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A woman walks to a Christian church in Beijing, April 17, 2011.
A woman walks to a Christian church in Beijing, April 17, 2011.

Members of an unofficial Christian group in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangxi say the authorities are putting pressure on them to join a church association backed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, and to hand over confidential lists of members.

Police in Jiangxi's Lichuan county called in three members of a local Protestant unofficial "house church" for questioning at the village government offices last week, according to a member and a U.S.-based rights group.

Authorities tried to force the Heng village house church members to join China's official Protestant body, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, ChinaAid said in a statement on its website.

A church member surnamed Wang said that officials from the village government and the local police station were present during the Aug. 7 interview.

"The village government, police station, and the religious affairs bureau asked these three to go to the village government," Wang said.

"They want us to report the names of everyone we have baptized since we set up our church," he said. "The police said that any group that is bigger than 30 members has to register and be approved."

He said the church members had continued to meet for worship, however.


Henan-based pastor Zhang Mingxuan, who heads the nationwide Protestant Chinese House Church Alliance, said the three had been threatened with severe punishment if they didn't comply.

"After they had summoned them, they tried to force them to provide a list of everyone who had been baptized by the house church," Zhang said.

"They said that if they didn't hand it over, they would punish them by sending them to labor camp."

Zhang said the government was trying to expand control over local believers it had not already sanctioned.

"[They want them to] join the Three-Self Movement," he said. "They are taking it step by step; they want to control all the believers."

Officially an atheist country, China nonetheless has an army of officials whose job is to watch over faith-based activities, which have spread rapidly in the wake of massive social change and economic uncertainty since economic reforms began 30 years ago.

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.

Last week, ChinaAid also reported the detention of several members of a house church in the Xinjiang city of Hotan, including pastor Zhong Shuguang and his wife. The pastor and various members of his congregation were detained several times in recent months, most recently on July 22, it said.

While leaders of China's unofficial churches, which overseas groups estimate as having some 40 million followers, say their activities have little to do with politics or human rights, raids on unofficial worship have been stepped up in a recent nationwide security clampdown.

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.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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