Authorities in east China’s Hangzhou city have warned unofficial Protestant “house church” with around 2,000 members that it is organizing “illegal gatherings,” church members said in RFA.
The church, which currently occupies premises on the ninth floor of the Xingye Mansions Building in the Jianghan District of Hangzhou, received a notification from the local government’s religious affairs office warning it to “reform its illegal gathering activities.”
Lawyer Li Guisheng said the church asked him to provide legal advice during a recent business trip to Hangzhou.
âThey arranged a meeting with me to seek legal advice, because the local government and the police station had forbidden them to meet, on the grounds that they were organizing illegal gatherings,â Li said.
âThis church has a particularly long history, and the government has tried to get them to join the Patriotic Association of the Three Autonomies,â Li said, referring to the state-sponsored official body that regulates Protestant Christians in China.
“But they don’t want to, so the government is preventing them from meeting,” he said.
“No end to government power”
The church has held unofficial worship ceremonies for more than 40 years, dating back to before national purges of religious beliefs and practices during the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), according to the human rights group. Christians based in the United States, China Aid.
Since the notice was issued, the local government has sent officials to the church premises to demolish a large cross displayed on a wall, Li said.
âA lot of people say it looks like there is no end to government power at the moment,â Li said. âThey also have no idea how to prosecute and defend their own. rights.”
An official who answered the phone at the Sijiqing Neighborhood Committee offices, which sent officials to remove the cross from the church, declined to comment.
âI don’t really know the details,â the official said. âYou will have to speak to the head of religious affairs Gao.
But repeated calls to the number provided resulted in a fax tone on Wednesday.
The government represses
Zhang Mingxuan, president of the Chinese House Church Alliance, similar treatment was given to other Protestant churches in Hangzhou before the city hosted the G20 summit in September.
âThey forced house churches not to meet before the G20 summit,â Zhang said. “They also forced them to join the Association des Trois-Autonomies for the past two years.”
âThe government has cracked down on house churches in recent years, trying to manage them more tightly, but they are sometimes a bit limp, so they just told them they couldn’t meet for worship,â he said. -he declares. “But the Bible teaches that we cannot stop meeting.”
The decision to stop the meeting of house churches follows a prolonged program of cross demolition over the past year or so by authorities in Zhejiang Province, of which Hangzhou is the capital.
The demolition of âillegalâ Christian crosses from church roofs occurred amid growing resistance from local believers, but was presented as a campaign of civic pride and building safety in the official media.
Reported by Qiao Long for the Mandarin service of RFA. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.