Scores of police and local officials demolished a large church in the Shanxi Province city of Linfen on Tuesday, thwarting efforts by congregants to halt the demolition and pressuring them to remain silent, witnesses told RFA’s Cantonese Service.
The Golden Lampstand Church was surrounded by officials, while cranes and bulldozers methodically reduced the large building to rubble, according to a witness who spoke to RFA.
“It has now been demolished,” a church member told RF by telephone.
The church member, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the demolition was carried out by “anti-riot team, quite large.”
Asked if congregants were being beaten by police, the witness said they had not, quickly adding “I'm under house arrest now” before hanging up.
Efforts by RFA to reach the church member by telephone received no reply.
Calls to the Linfen City government also went unanswered.
Ren Quanniu, a lawyer who frequently works on religious repression cases, told RFA that churches have often been demolished in China without means for members to seek legal redress.
“This is not a matter of demolition alone, but also involves a number of political and religious issues. It is very difficult for believers of this church to solve the dispute by law,” he told RFA.
“If a demolition case is simply a demolition case, we can go through the formalities and look at the documents of the people. If there is a problem, it can be stopped by law,” said Ren.
“However, in general, anything involving religious beliefs in China, is a more sensitive issue,” he added.
ChinaAid, a Texas-based Christian human rights organization, said the Golden Lampstand Church had been subject to government pressures since it was built in 2009.
“China repeatedly cracks down on house churches, which are churches that refuse to register, often to opt out of government monitoring. Officials often prosecute such choices, however, and some of Golden Lampstand Church’s leaders have been imprisoned for one to seven years, simply for serving at their church,” ChinaAid said in a statement on Tuesday.
ChinaAid said that on Sept. 13, 2009, church members who slept at the construction site were beaten by some 400 officials.
After the 2009 incident, Pastor Yang Xuan spent three-and-a-half years in prison, and his wife Yang Caizhen was sentenced to two years in a re-education labor camp and beaten while incarcerated, ChinaAid said, quoting their daughter Yang “Esther” Xue.
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 more rural areas of the country, according to overseas rights groups.
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.
Reported by RFA’s Cantonese Service. Written in English by Paul Eckert.