Christian religious freedom charity Release International has warned of another year of more clampdowns for Christians and other religious minorities in China.
The persecution watchdog said 2020 saw an increase in the mass digital surveillance of Christians and Uyghur Muslims, as part of President Xi Jinping’s sinicisation campaign, which brought sharp tightening of control over any signs of difference or suspected dissidence in China.
Release International claimed growing intolerance is evident in Hong Kong, with the clampdown on democracy campaigners.
“The Chinese authorities have also been moving under cover of Covid to accelerate their crackdown against the Chinese Church,’ said Paul Robinson, the CEO of Release International.
“Our partners say persecution is now as severe as at any time since Mao's Cultural Revolution. Given the ongoing repression in Hong Kong and of the Uyghur people, increased persecution for the Church over the Chinese New Year seems inevitable.
‘Not only have we seen continued attempts to eradicate the house church movement, but we've seen China taking increasingly public steps towards shutting down and controlling its officially sanctioned churches, including demolition.”
Release International has warned of China’s “powerful system” of digital surveillance. The country is said to have installed more than half a billion surveillance cameras, many with state-of-the-art face-recognition systems.
The system is linked to China’s social credit system, which gives the authorities the means to punish so-called offenders by deducting their welfare or pension payments.
“Digital authoritarianism is a growing challenge,’ said Bob Fu, founder of religious freedom organisation China Aid.
“The Chinese Communist Party has hundreds of millions of face-recognition cameras all over China. They keep watch over every street corner, from the four walls of church buildings and even from pulpits.”
While online worship or prayer have been banned, China has an army of cyber-security forces, professional and volunteers, monitoring the Internet, tasked with reporting illegal religious online activities.
One of the most heavily persecuted churches is the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu.
The church has been under severe attack since 2018. More than 200 elders, pastors and deacons have been arrested, and its Pastor, Wang Yi, has been convicted and sentenced to nine-years’ imprisonment, accused of subversion of state power.
The evidence was based on his sermons from the pulpit, when he called on President Xi Jinping to stop his repressive religious policy and accept Jesus Christ as his saviour.
“Our investigations show that at least 80 members of the Early Rain Covenant Church were tortured, physically and mentally – some very severely, to the point where they are still struggling with mental challenges,” Fu said.
“Despite the severe persecution, extreme surveillance and forced eviction of many from their homes, the church is actually growing. Many new believers have been baptised”
According to Purdue University, there are now almost 130 million Christians in China.
Listen to Premier’s interview with Andrew Boys from Release International here: