Since 2006 China Aid publishes an annual report on the persecution of Christians in China. On February 14, the NGO put online the one concerning the year 2022 and which testifies to a tightening of the control of Christian activities under the regime of Xi Jinping, in particular via new forms of persecution.
China Aid relied, as in other years, on an extensive network of Christians throughout mainland China to compile its report on religious freedom, the rule of law and various persecutions. The increase in digital surveillance, however, makes it very difficult to fully present the situation, as congregants and congregations are afraid to testify online. Nevertheless, his report allows us to see quite precisely how the socialist power targets Christians. For Bob Fu, the president of the NGO, the international community must be alerted while China is gaining power.
In its 63-page report, China Aid mentions the development of various forms of persecution, with a particular insistence on the sinicization of the Churches or the regulation of religious expression on the Internet.
Despite some economic liberalization of the country, the Communist Party continues to tightly control the circulation of goods, people and ideas. Christianity is still seen as a threat by power, and persecution has continued in its most notorious forms. Christians are still arrested and detained without contact with the outside world, they can be tortured, churches are destroyed.
Arrests of Christians on the pretext of fraud
On February 4, 2022, as the world's eyes were on Beijing where the Winter Olympics were starting, police arrested Xu Yonghai, an elder of Holy Love Fellowship Church, and placed him under house arrest in a hotel in the capital. Other Christians, including a lawyer, were also forced not to come out. Their particularity is to plead for justice. This is the case for so many others like Wang Debang, a pro-democracy Christian activist, arrested on May 12 to be interrogated for days and nights by the police who tortured him before releasing him on bail. He is awaiting his trial.
If the power arrests Christians for their activities in favor of human rights, it also persecutes them as Christians. In particular, he is increasingly resorting to accusations of fraud without proven foundation. For example, Hao Zhiwei, a pastor in Hubei province, was sentenced to eight years in prison, while Hao Ming and Wu Jiannan, elders of a church in Sichuan, were sentenced to more than 10 years in prison. As of mid-July, nine officials from the Golden Lampstand Church in Shanxi arrested in August 2021 remained in detention, charged with fraud.
Suffering from hunger, faced with the refusal of medical treatment, abused, they were also not entitled to visits from their families. The latter are not always officially informed of the reasons for the arrests, as in the case of as in the case of Wu Tingting, an employee of a church in the same province who refuses to join the Patriotic Movement of the three autonomies, one of the two official Protestant Churches validated by the State.
Authorities may insist that worshipers claim to have been fraudulently robbed by their pastors. In the Wu Tingting church, almost everyone refused to sign any accusation against two pastors, but some gave in to strong pressure from their employers and relatives. They also had to sign a pledge not to attend the congregation again.
The Golden Lampstand building was previously blown up in 2018 after the congregation refused to join the official Church, and authorities had previously considered demolishing it in 2009 to capitalize on the real estate value. The pastor's wife was arrested for "illegal appropriation of agricultural land" before being sentenced to seven years in prison. In the wake of its release in 2016, the authorities had asked the congregation to join the Patriotic Movement of the three autonomies, before demolishing the building two years later.
The strengthening of the persecution under the Covid
In this fight against Christianity, Covid-19 is a pretext of choice. On May 17, human rights lawyer Wang Shengsheng traveled from Zhengzhou, then not considered at Covid risk, to Wuhan to defend a client. The police kept her in quarantine for 21 hours, illegally according to her. On September 28, several people began monitoring Pastor Dai Zhichao's home before Covid prevention authorities came to his home on October 15 to carry out tests. They were rude and forbade him to leave his accommodation.
On the eve of Easter, April 16, members of the Christians of Shenzen Trinity Harvest Gospel Church went to the beach, two hours from their home, to baptize six new believers. Health authorities called Pastor Mao Zhibin, then police located him with worshipers at a restaurant and checked their identities, their Covid QR-codes. The pastor saw that one of the police officers had the video of the baptisms on his smartphone, posted by an inexperienced worshiper on WeChat. Power understands the importance of controlling all Christian expression online.
Sinicization and increased control of cyberspace
Following the baptism at the beach, authorities banned online religious services by Pastor Mao's Church. But the power goes further and has made it a matter of national security, in particular by taking "administrative measures for religious information services on the Internet" since March. It trains its agents in cybersecurity law and national security law.
Even before the entry into force of these measures, on March 1, online exchanges were already controlled. On January 16, a Christian living in New York said that she had discussed with her mother on WeChat, before concluding their exchange with a common prayer, and that the cadres of the latter's village asked her in the process not to not preach on this app. "Now we are not even allowed to mention Jesus in our prayers," she told China Aid.
Many Christians report that they have to take precautionary measures to communicate on WeChat, for example changing group names, nicknames, or even adding asterisks between keywords to circumvent censorship, reduce the use of terms related to the Christian faith, or even remove religious content.
In January, Wang Yang, a member of the Communist Party's Political Bureau, said religious communities should unite their followers around the Party and the government to forge "positive energy" to achieve the "Chinese dream". The Administration of Religious Affairs says it is necessary to strengthen the ideology and political orientation in favor of socialism in Christian communities and to embed their religious content in Chinese culture.
The XNUMXth National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October was an opportunity to reiterate that religious communities must focus on the "great awakening of the Chinese people", deepen and promote the sinicization of their beliefs, but also study and disseminate the spirit of Congress in their circles or give priority to political tasks. New in this sinicization, the Congress demands that religious groups "shield their minds with Xi Jiping's thought concerning socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era". Xi's thought should even be used to inform work and religious practice.