■ Members of a Christian church in Wenzhou, Zhejiang were surprised by the unannounced demolition of their church building, which was carried out while their pastor was negotiating for a relocation.
The leader of Zhuyang Church, a government-sanctioned church, was said to be in the middle of discussions with local authorities regarding a relocation site and the necessary fees for moving to a new location, China Aid reports.
On May 20, a few days after the church leader met with the officials, a demolition team of about 100 people swarmed the church building and destroyed it. The church leader and government officials had not yet come to a decision for a new site at the time the building was destroyed.
Although authorities acknowledged that the church structure and documents were legal, they said the building was demolished as part of an initiative to transform the village where the Three-Self church was standing.
|Photo showing church building with cross (Pixabay)|
The destruction of the building falls under the “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” campaign headed by the provincial government.
In a June 2014 report, the U.S. Congressional–Executive Commission on China said the three-year campaign, launched in March 2014, sought to destroy “illegal structures.” However, it targeted mostly Christian church buildings, raising concerns that the government could be using it to have greater control over growing Christian churches in the province.
A review of the government’s provincial policy statement showed that the campaign is meant to control “excessive religious sites” and activities. However, only Christianity and its symbol, the cross, were mentioned in the document.
“The priority is to remove crosses at religious activity sites on both sides of expressways, national highways and provincial highways. Over time and in batches, bring down the crosses from the rooftops to the facade of the buildings,” the document read, according to The New York Times.
Members of the Zhuyang Church gathered at the site where their old building lies in ruins and held a worship service there on May 22. Some of them carried banners protesting the demolition.
“Before, the government said that religious matters would be handled with care, but now it doesn’t care about religions at all,” a church member said, according to China Aid. “Even churches with full legal documentation, if they fail to reach an agreement, will be brutally torn down by the government. The brothers and sisters of this church wonder if justice still exists.”
Church members took to Sina Weibo, the Chinese social media site, and shared photos of their destroyed building. However, their posts were soon blocked.