In its latest move to harass its growing Christian community, China’s communist government has begun a campaign of installing surveillance cameras in Christian churches of the Zhejiang province.
The government will now know exactly who is attending services and with what regularity, as well as being able to monitor everything that is said from the pulpit.
The Zhejiang government issued the order to install surveillance cameras in the churches in Wenzhou at the end of last year and began carrying out the edict in January. Although the communist government alleges that the video cameras are being installed for “anti-terrorism and security purposes,” in point of fact, China has not experienced any threat of terrorist activity from its Christian communities.
According to the U.S.-based human rights group China Aid, churches were instructed to install cameras at gates, rostrums, offering boxes and other places. If the churches refuse to comply, government officials will forcibly set up the devices.
“Government officials came to the churches and put up cameras by force. Some pastors and worshippers who didn’t agree to the move were dragged away,” one Christian from Wenzhou reported. “Some people needed to be treated in hospital after fighting the officials.”
China Aid reported that in late March, “hundreds of police officers” converged on Changlin Church in Wenzhou to set up video monitoring equipment, and beat the Christians who tried to put up opposition. Officials also vandalized the church, demolishing its reception desk and other parts of the building, including the church’s gate.
An official notice declaring that all churches would have to install the cameras was circulated among church members at the end of last year, according to reports.
Wenzhou has the highest concentration of Christians on the mainland, with a Christian community numbering roughly one million people out of a total population of 8 million.
Christians have protested the ruling, saying that it infringes their right to privacy as well as their freedom of worship.
“I don’t support the government’s decision and I hope they will not put monitoring equipment inside our church,” one local churchgoer said. “We Christians do good deeds and we don’t do anything to endanger the public. I don’t understand why the government wants to monitor us,” he said.
“The government’s pressure on us will not deter us from our beliefs and will not affect the proliferation of our religion,” he added. “The tougher the persecution, the more people will be encouraged to follow the religion.”
Pastor Yan Xiaojie, a missionary in the city, said the new cameras reminded him of the “cross demolitions” which began in 2014. The new ruling comes just three years after the start of an intensive campaign to remove crosses from the roofs of houses of worship.
The Zhejiang government announced that in installing the new cameras officials would take into account whether or not a given church had previously resisted cross demolitions and would send more agents to the site if it had.
As part of its cross-removal campaign, government officials forcibly eliminated or destroyed more than 2,000 crosses from Christian churches in Wenzhou between 2014 and 2016.
Just last year, authorities continued demolishing church crosses and beating protesters bloody. Government officials came out in large numbers to put down protesters of the program, armed with riot gear and prepared to use force.
Ever since Xi Jinping took power as Chinese Communist Party General Secretary in 2012, the Party has tightened restrictions on religious practice. Since then, more and more believers are opting out of official, state-sanctioned religious organizations and moving their faith underground.