Chinese authorities are offering cash rewards to those willing to spy on the underground church, according to a leading persecution watchdog.
Bitter Winter reports that in August, the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau of Gushi county encouraged residents to collect photos, videos, audio recordings, with the express aim of spying on what they called “illegal religious activity venues.” An award of 500 RMB (just over £50) was offered for each tip-off.
The notice stipulated that all churches who are without registration certificates and are not approved by religious affairs authorities are “illegal religious activity venues". It also added that many believers are being “cheated and lured by religious organizations into private meeting venues” to attend “illegal religious activities" during the coronavirus pandemic. This, the officials added, had caused a "great negative impact on security and stability in the field of religion".
Immediately after the campaign had begun, a landlord of a property rented by a local church terminated their lease. The landlord drove us away, refusing to rent us her property,” a church member said. “She explained that she didn’t want to suffer consequences if our venue was discovered. The CCP will not stop until it eliminates all religious beliefs.”
In July, other posters promoting the “proactive reporting on illegal religious activities” were put up in locations across Henan province including the cities of Mengzhou, Jiyuan and Shangqiu.
Residents were instructed that gatherings of three to five Christians should be reported immediately.
Officials say they are ensuring a level of control over the state-mandated 'Three-Self' churches and keeping close tabs on the growth of the underground church.
"The government exerts strict control not only to curb the development of Three-Self churches but also ban house churches, for fear that they will help topple the regime,” explained a local government employee.
Despite these relentless attempts to curb church activities, Christianity continues to explode across China - there are an estimated 100 million followers of Jesus in the country at this time. China is on course to becoming the world's most Christian nation, with experts estimating the number of believers to reach around 230 million by the year 2030.