Over the past year, the Chinese government has intensified
its crackdown on Christians and other religious groups across China.
incarceration of over one million predominantly Muslim Uyghurs,
Kazakhs and members of other ethnic groups in ‘re-education camps’ in Xinjiang since
2017 has alarmed the international community, with the detentions receiving UN
condemnation. At the same time, Christians across China are also being
relentlessly targeted by the Chinese state apparatus, with countless violations
ranging from the arrest and torture of religious practitioners to the forced
closure of places of worship remaining a daily reality for those peacefully
exercising their universal right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB).
Since the revised regulations on religious affairs came into effect on 1 February 2018, reports have emerged of the removal of over 7,000 crosses in Henan province alone. Christians in Henan have also reported that unregistered churches across the province have been forcibly shuttered by authorities. Outside of Henan, in the wake of the revised regulations authorities across China continue to harass worshippers and restrict religious observance at state-approved churches by removing religious symbols from buildings, banning under-18s from religious activities, and forcing churches to install cameras and sing pro-Communist songs.
“My family, relatives, friends and dozens of innocent people [I know] have been arrested since April 2017. I have no knowledge of how many more of our relatives have been arrested as we lost contact with them at the beginning of the year. They have not committed any crime… They are ordinary people… since then I have not heard from them and I am unsure about their safety.”
– Chinese Uyghur living overseas.
Faith groups in China are currently experiencing the most severe crackdown on religious freedom and human rights in decades. One of the worst sites of this crackdown is the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where recent reports estimate that as many as three million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and members of other ethnic groups have been detained in political re-education camps without charge.
Ethnicity appears to be the principle driver of these detentions, however there is also a significant religious element. The majority of detainees are Muslim, and reasons for detention – when a reason is given – have often been connected to the practice of peaceful religious activities such as participating in communal religious services or accessing religious materials online.
The religious element is further demonstrated by the treatment of Muslims inside the camps. Witnesses report that detainees have been forced to renounce Islam and promise not to follow religion. Prisoners have also been forced to eat pork or drink alcohol, which goes against their religious beliefs.
When leaders of the G20 nations arrive in Zhejiang Province, China, next week for the G20 summit, they will be greeted by a different skyline than they might have seen five years ago.
The sky scrapers and shopping malls that have become the hallmark of China’s phenomenal economic growth will still be there, but the bright red Christian crosses which were once just as much a feature of Zhejiang have been taken down.
Removal of crosses in Zhejiang Province
Hundreds of crosses have been removed by the authorities since early 2014, as part of a campaign allegedly introduced to rid the province of structures which violate building regulations. Under draft regulations, crosses now have to be flat against outer walls, and their size and colour are restricted. The authorities have sometimes employed violent tactics in the face of protests by church members. Christian leaders who have opposed the cross removals through letters or peaceful gatherings have been arrested and accused of economic crimes.
It may be no coincidence that the site of the cross removal campaign is the same province selected to host the G20.