By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
ZHEJIANG PROVINCE, CHINA (ANS) -- Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is concerned about the ongoing church demolitions and the removals of religious symbols in Zhejiang Province, amid growing reports of the use of extra-judicial measures and violent tactics by the authorities.
A crane winches a large red cross from one of three domes on a Chinese church
The spate of demolitions and removals of religious symbols in Zhejiang Province began in early 2014. The estimates for the number of churches wholly or partly demolished so far range from 130 to over 200.
In June ChinaAid reported that some sources claimed 360 Christian organizations had had their buildings demolished, crosses removed or received demolition notices. Crucially, the churches affected include both Protestant and Catholic, registered and unregistered. They vary in size and in age. Some have had their sign removed, while others have been completely demolished. However, almost all have been ordered to remove religious symbols, most often the cross, but also sacred statues and signs.
CSW says that some churches are reporting the use of extra-judicial measures and violence by the authorities. Dozens were injured on July 21st when several hundred armed men attacked members of Salvation Church as they tried to prevent police removing the church's cross.
According to reports, the incident occurred at 3a m when the uniformed men lined up near the church. Church members report that the men suddenly charged without warning after the members prevented them from entering the church. Some claim the police present did not have the correct paperwork to remove the cross. Days earlier, on 17 July, the church's pastor Zhan Yingsheng resigned from the state-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement and began a hunger strike in protest against the authorities' attempts to remove the church's cross.
Some Zhejiang Christians claim that the removal of crosses and the demolition of some churches are the result of a visiting provincial secretary's complaint about the number of Christian crosses in the province, and believe that the "Three Rectifications and One Demolition" campaign associated with the demolitions is being used to target churches. However, the authorities maintain that the campaign is not targeting Christianity.
CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, "We are deeply concerned at the use of violence against the membe rs of Salvation Church, who were attempting to peacefully protect their church's cross from being removed. "This spate of demotions and the removal of Christian symbols have left Christians across the province feeling humiliated and victimized. In cases where churches and other buildings are found to be in violation of regulations, we urge the provincial authorities to conduct proper investigations in accordance with the law, without the use of violence and intimidation tactics. We further call on the Chinese authorities to provide compensation to those injured on 21 July, and to hold to account those responsible for the incident."
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organization working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.