Chinese authorities have pressed their campaign against religious groups operating outside of state control in recent days, demolishing a Catholic church in the western city of Xi’an and shuttering a Protestant church in northwest China’s Xinjiang region, sources said.
In Shijing town in Xi’an’s Huyi district, authorities tore down a Catholic church at the end of December, sparking a protest by around 300 church followers who gathered later in front of district government offices with banners calling for the right to religious freedom, local sources said.
Led by the parish priest, church leaders are now beginning talks with local authorities, who he said have already apologized for the demolition, over the status of the church, local bishop Wu Qinjing told RFA's Mandarin Service.
“It is not convenient for me to continue to make comments on this matter, however,” Wu said, noting the political sensitivity of the issue.
According to local church members, the demolished church was built in 1999, with a document issued at the time calling the church’s use of the land on which it was built “permanent.”
But on Dec. 20, 2017, local officials posted a notice outside the church saying that its construction had never been authorized and threatening “unconditional” demolition, church members said.
Nowhere to pray
Also at the end of December, police in Qorhas (in Chinese, Huocheng) county in Xinjiang’s Ili (Yili) Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture sealed off the entrance to the Qingshuihe town church, the U.S.-based China Aid Association News Network reported.
Worshipers at the church now have nowhere they can meet to pray, church pastor Lou Yuanqi told RFA.
“They told us on Dec. 31 that we do not have permission to gather there,” Lou said.
“The door is now sealed, this time by the Public Security Bureau, and we are worshiping in a scattered way,” he said.
Freedom of worship was harshly restricted last year in China, where 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 in August.
Authorities in the country’s coastal Zhejiang province 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, the State Department said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated by Chen Ping. Written in English by Richard Finney.