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The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ramped up its persecution of Christians during 2022, increasing the suppression of churches and online religious information while demanding devotion to Chinese leader Xi Jinping that amounted to “worship,” according to a watchdog organization.
A Feb. 13 report by the U.S.-based non-governmental organization ChinaAid highlighted the escalating persecution of Christian churches and Christians in mainland China over the last year.
Eliminating Christian Gatherings
Chinese authorities have used China’s zero-COVID policies as an excuse to intensify the limiting or elimination of Christian gatherings.
The increased measures not only target independent churches, but also those that belong to the legal Three-Self Patriotic Movement.
China has approximately 96.7 million Christians, according to persecution watchdog Open Doors. It remains illegal for minors under 18 to attend church.
ChinaAid’s report singled out a police raid at Taiyuan Zion Reformed Church’s Sunday worship service in April, in which seven Christians were taken away.
Citing “illegal gatherings,” police gave the arrested Christians 15-day administrative detentions and a fine of 500 yuan (about $73), but postponed the administrative detention due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the report stated.
People providing a venue for church meetings were subject to heavy fines as well. For example, in January, Huang Yuanda, a Christian from Xunsiding Church in Xiamen, in southeast China, was fined 100,000 yuan (about $13,800) for providing a rented house for the church school to use.
Censorship of Online Christian Content
The censorship of online Christian content, even in group chats, reached record levels after the “Administrative Measures for Internet Religious Information Services” took effect in March of 2022, ChinaAid noted.
The group cited a report that a Christian was banned for a year from the DingTalk platform, owned by Alibaba group, for posting religious messages, which were classified as illegal religious information.
In early May, the 21-year-old Christian website “Jonah’s Home” was shut down, the report stated. Visitors to the webpage saw the following message: “Due to reasons known to everyone, from now on, this site can no longer serve brothers and sisters (in Christ). Thank you for your company and support in the past 21 years! The disappearance of a website is nothing more than the disappearance of a website. Nothing else stopped at this moment except an URL that can no longer be opened. Therefore, don’t worry about us, just keep moving forward.”
Under the new law, CathAssist, which in 2013 became China’s first Catholic mobile app, was forced to shut down.
According to ChinaAid, the app “did not meet the government’s requirements for the license, despite having taken various actions including suspending sharing, changing its name, and modifying content.”
After repeated failed attempts, on Sept. 1, CathAssist decided to indefinitely suspend operations on its website and through the CathAssist app.
Worship of Xi
Religious sinicization is evolving from “supporting the CCP” to “worship and allegiance to Xi Jinping,” the report said. It noted that around and after the opening of the Party Congress last year, “China’s state-run religious groups lavished compliments and praise on Xi with more extravagant words and phrases than China’s state-run media.”
Further, ChinaAid noted the National Religious Groups’ Joint Conference, held Oct. 28—shortly after the CCP congress—to advance the “spirit of the CCP’s 20th National Congress.”
The agency “required religious groups to find concrete ways to armor their minds with Xi Jinping’s thoughts regarding ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in the New Era.’”
Religious groups are instructed to use Xi’s thoughts to guide religious work and practice, as well as unite leaders and religious adherents more closely around the CCP’s central committee—with comrade Xi at its core—the report said.
Cutting Off Funding
The watch group also noted the new trends of oppression, in which the CCP is using charges of “fraud” to financially suffocate the house church movement, which consists of Christian congregations that have not registered with China’s official Protestant church.
The authorities claim that tithing and offerings are illegal, even though such practices have been maintained as a tradition, the report stated.
Under the fabricated charge of “fraud,” many Christians faced harsh persecution last year. For example, Pastor Hao Zhiwei of Hubei province’s Ezhou House Church was sentenced to eight years in prison. Meanwhile, Elder Hao Ming and Elder Wu Jiannan of Qingcaodi Church in Sichuan province faced heavy sentences of more than 10 years in prison.
Erasing the Church Entirely
ChinaAid president and founder Bob Fu raised concerns that the CCP’s goal is not to curate a “socialist-friendly” church, but to erase the church entirely.
“The international community needs to know about these trends and developments as China continues to rise on the global stage,” Fu said.
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