The Communist Party’s campaign to eradicate the iconic Christian symbol from China’s landscape continued in full force this past week, with authorities demolishing a dozen church crosses and beating protesters bloody.
The religious freedom group China Aid reported that government officials have been coming out in large numbers to put down protesters of the cross removal program, armed with riot gear and prepared to use force.
The focus of the campaign has been the city of Wenzhou, in the Zhejiang province, where authorities have removed more than 2,000 church crosses since the beginning of the operation in 2014. The government has euphemistically titled the campaign a “beautification” program, often recurring to trumped up charges that church structures are illegally constructed in order to justify the demolition of crosses.
Church members have often gathered outside their churches to protest the assaults, but now demolition teams have grown to as many as 100 or more people to put down any demonstrations.
On Good Friday, one such team composed of more than 100 people took down the cross from Shangen Church and beat a female church member, who had to be taken to the hospital for her injuries.
One of the protesters who preferred to remain anonymous said that government officials “ordered us not to resist” and threatened to tear down the church instead, if the faithful did not comply. Similar threats from authorities were reported by other sources as well.
Ever since Xi Jinping took power as Chinese Communist Party General Secretary in 2012, the Party has tightened restrictions on religious practice, and more and more believers are opting out of official, state-sanctioned religious organizations and moving their faith underground.
According to a Congressional report, 2015 was the worst year on record for human rights violations in China and conditions for religious believers in China have been on a “downward trend” since Xi took office.
Last July, the Communist government of Shanghai mandated that Catholic priests and nuns faithful to Rome undergo “reeducation” classes on the central theme of the National Congress of the Communist Party.
As a result of the crackdown on religious practice, and particularly Christianity, frustration among China’s hundreds of millions of religious believers is now said to be “running higher than at any time since Chairman Mao’s death in 1976.”
In its World Report 2016, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) decried 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.”
Earlier this year, police arrested and jailed Gu Yuese, the pastor of China’s first Christian megachurch, the 10,000-member Chongyi Church.
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.
The ongoing crusade to remove visible crosses from Christian church buildings is one of the more persistent manifestations of the government’s attack on Christianity.
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