The Chinese Communist Party is using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to crack down on Christians, even arresting some for attending online services via Zoom, David Curry, the CEO of the Christian charity Open Doors, told Breitbart News in an interview on Wednesday.
Open Doors released on Wednesday the 2021 edition of its annual World Watch List – a ranking of the world’s most dangerous places to practice the Christian faith. Open Doors is dedicated to aiding Christians in parts of the world where they face persecution, either from the government or from civil society.
In 2021, North Korea ranked the top most dangerous place in the world for Christians for the 20th year in a row due to systematic persecution, including execution, of Christians by the totalitarian communist government, which uses force to command popular worship of the nation’s founder, Kim Il-sung, and his family.
China ranked 17 among the world’s persecutors of Christians, lower than several nominal democracies such as India and Nigeria due largely to a lack of civil-society-driven mob attacks on Christian communities. The ranking this year, nonetheless, represented a six-spot rise for China between 2020, when it ranked 23, and 2021.
“In just three years, the country has risen 26 places, reflecting a rapidly deteriorating situation for Christians in the country,” Open Doors noted.
“China has definitely cracked down on religion. They’re returning what I call the ‘government is God’ philosophy that they had when they were connected with the Soviet Union years ago,” Curry told Breitbart News. “What’s unique about China is that they have the capacity and the will to roll out this very sophisticated surveillance system against Christians. And, of course, with COVID [the Chinese coronavirus], people are forced to watch church online.”
Curry explained that the use of online tools to congregate with other Christians has resulted in easier surveillance by the Communist Party, although the pandemic itself may not directly have resulted in increased persecution.
“They’re taking advantage of COVID to restrict people’s ability to meet, some of which is, of course, understandable. But we have cases, documented cases, where they’re arresting people who are attending Zoom church, where they’re monitoring church online,” Curry explained. “So China is cracking down. It’s not related to COVID, but they are certainly using COVID as a justification to intensify the persecution.”
Among the highest-profile examples of Zoom-related church arrests were a series of raids in April 2020 on members of the Early Rain Covenant Church. Chinese communist authorities arrested members of the church during an Easter Sunday online service.
Christianity is technically legal in China. China allows only five legal religions – Christianity, “Catholicism,” Taoism, Buddhism, and Islam – but only allows the practice of each under the auspices of “patriotic,” state-controlled institutions. Chinese Catholics cannot legally be part of the Roman Catholic Church, only of the “Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.” Similarly, non-Catholic Christians in China can only partake in practices led by the “Three-Self Patriotic Church,” a communist entity. Communism is by definition an atheist political ideology, which has made the vast majority of Christians reject communist-led “Christian” services.
Estimates suggest that, including the millions of Chinese Christians not participating in legal Christian activity, China is home to one of the largest Christian populations on earth, consisting of as many as 100 million people.
Curry explained to Breitbart News that the crackdown on Christianity in China has occurred in tandem with significant repression of all religions and ethnic minorities, perhaps most intensely the repression of majority-Muslim Uyghur people. As of April 2020, the U.S. government believes that as many as two million Uyghurs and other ethnic minority Muslims are trapped in government-run concentration camps in their native Xinjiang region, in northwest China.
“The strategy that they’re rolling out, the way they’re scoring Christian behavior, attendance of church, not allowing young people under the age of 18 to go, monitoring online behavior, they’re just very sophisticated how they’re cracking down on religious practice,” Curry said. “I have to point out, it’s not just against Christians. The Uyghur Muslims – religious and ethnic Muslims in the northwest of the country – have faced enormous hardships and human rights abuses at the hands of China.”
Curry also noted that Christians exist “all over the country of China.”
“There are Uyghurs who are Christians, as well, so you do have intersections in these communities. But you have a different ethnicity in the northwest of the country separate from the Han Chinese, and the government of China seems to be threatened by that,” he explained, “and they’re using some very unique tactics – maybe not unique, but intense tactics – detention, sterilizations, all on the premise that this is a dangerous terrorist group.”
“These are, by and large…the massive majority of the people detained are professionals. These are professors and doctors, but they have an ethnicity and/or religion that China is cracking down on,” he noted.
Curry told Breitbart News he hopes President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration will use its position to “build on the progress that has been made” in the Trump era in prioritizing religious freedom in foreign policy.
“Essentially, what we’d like to see is that they continue what the State Department has done, bringing together – I think it’s now 32 countries – through a ministerial on religious freedom to set some standards worldwide,” Curry noted, referring to the annual conferences founded by the Trump-era State Department to give foreign ministers a venue to discuss how to bolster religious freedom at home. “But I also think you look first to those people we have international relationships with, like India. If China wants to be part of the international community – that is a big question mark – but if they do, we have to have some standards of human rights that are agreed upon.”
“The ability to practice people’s faith peacefully, I think, is pretty fundamental. It’s that ability to choose your own faith, to decide what you think in these partnership arrangements,” he explained.