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Chinese Christians face increasing surveillance and repression, say analysts

16 February 2024


Christian worshippers in Beijing at Christmas 2023

Christian worshippers in Beijing at Christmas 2023

CHRISTIANS in China are facing increasing repression, with digital surveillance now monitoring their every move, analysts have warned.

Christians are now forced to pre-register their church attendance in authorised churches on a new app, some reports say.

Benedict Rogers, a co-founder of Hong Kong Watch, said that digital surveillance of Chinese society was extensive, and that state-registered churches now faced tight controls, including a ban on children’s attendance at services.

“For some years, there has been a regulation in existence that says people under the age of 18 should not be going to places of worship, and that is enforced in state-controlled churches. Restrictions have been increasingly tightened over the last few years. It has been worsening over the last decade under President Xi Jinping. State-controlled churches have to display his portrait.”

Non-registered churches, including house churches, have faced brutal repression: some have been dynamited and destroyed, and their leaders have been imprisoned.

The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, who review the persecution of Christians around the world for the Foreign Office (News, 12 July 2019), agreed that the situation for Chinese Christians had “significantly worsened”.

“Ten years or so ago, China was barely on the radar as far the denial of freedom of religion or belief is concerned. Today, the situation has significantly worsened, in Hong Kong as well as on the mainland, both for Christians and other minorities, including, most notably, the Uighur Muslims.

“I’m pleased that the tone of the UK Government’s statements on China have become significantly more critical, and we need this to continue and be very clear that riding roughshod over the rights and liberties of minorities is simply not acceptable in today’s world. China is a major trading partner — but we should not trade at any price.”

The charity Release International, an advocate on behalf of persecuted Christians, has named China as a country where persecution is widespread and worsening, and says that even state-controlled churches are forced to close, and facial-recognition cameras have been installed in churches to monitor worshippers, who have to pre-register their attendance on an app.

Children who have become Christian have been forced to sign a pledge to renounce their faith, it says

Release International’s chief executive, Paul Robinson, said: “The Communist Party portrays Christianity as unpatriotic and pro-Western, and therefore a threat. It wants to control the Church, and what it can’t control it seeks to eliminate.”

Since the passing of the National Security Law in Hong Kong in 2020 (News, 5 June 2020), Christians there are also noticing an increasingly “insidious” control by the Chinese Communist Party, Mr Rogers says.

“In Hong Kong, Christians face insidious and subtle actions against churches — not imprisonment and closure of churches, as in China, but an insidious dismantling of the freedom of religion. . . Clergy are afraid to speak out, and they avoid some passages in the Bible that could be seen as provocative.

“There is pressure in the education sector, where 60 per cent of schools are church-run and are having to follow the national security education system. It is more subtle in Hong Kong, but the freedom of religion and belief is being targeted and will be last to go, following freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, which have already gone.”

Mr Rogers has been banned from entering Hong Kong and has been threatened with prison. A friend of the Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who is on trial under the National Security Law, he has been named during the trial as a collaborator.

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