As Communist China continues to tighten restrictions on religious practice, more and more believers are opting out of official, state-sanctioned religious organizations and moving their faith underground, according to recent reports.
Frustration among China’s hundreds of millions of religious believers is building and is now said to be “running higher than at any time since Chairman Mao’s death in 1976.”
The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has issued another devastating report card criticizing the Chinese government for its ever more restrictive control over religious practice.
In its recently issued World Report 2016, HRW documents ongoing egregious abuses of religious liberty in China, noting that its authoritarian Communist regime “systematically curtails a wide range of fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religion.”
Three weeks ago police arrested and jailed Gu Yuese, the pastor of the 10,000-member Chongyi Church, which is China’s first Christian megachurch.
Police sent Gu to a “black jail,” a detention facility outside of the country’s established penal system, capping a series of arrests and various forms of harassment of religious personnel, notably the ongoing crusade to remove visible crosses from Christian church buildings. More than 1,500 crosses have been removed so far.
As a member of China’s state-approved Protestant denomination, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), Gu was a pastor in good standing with the Communist Party until he began publicly protesting the government-sponsored campaign to remove and demolish crosses in the Zhejiang province in 2014.
Though the pastor is ostensibly being held under charges of embezzlement of funds, Gu’s detention is actually “political revenge” for Mr Gu’s “disloyalty to the Chinese Communist Party’s religious policy” according to Bob Fu, president of the US-based Christian human rights group China Aid.
Meanwhile, in an effort to increase its direct control of religious groups, Beijing has recently begun assigning certificates detailing the secular name, religious name, national ID card number and a new, unique faith number to Buddhist monks across the country, and intends to extend this practice to Catholic and Taoist priests later this year.
Religious personnel without the proper certificates will be barred from conducting religious activities, according to the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the government body that manages religious activity across China.
This latest move has already ignited a backlash as believers refuse to submit their faith and religious practice to state control. According to reports, priests belonging to China’s state-backed Catholic Church have said that instead of procuring the necessary certification, they may instead go underground.
As criticism mounts against China’s heavy-handedness, party apparatchiks have been scrambling to defend China’s human rights record, while believers scatter to avoid state constraints.
Writing for China Daily, a Communist Party lackey named Li Yunlong said that criticism of recent crackdowns on religious freedom in China are “a product of subjective bias and prejudice” with “no foundation in reality.”
“In China, all citizens can freely choose their own religious beliefs, express their beliefs and take part in religious activities. The social environment is constantly improving for the prosperity of religion in China, and society has becomes more and more objective and reasonable toward religions,” Mr. Li dutifully wrote.
The Chinese government has reason to be afraid, as Christian believers in the country now outnumber membership in the Communist Party itself, in what is still an officially atheist nation.
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