Chinese lawyers demand justice for Christian persecution
A group of lawyers in China are taking action against the demolition of churches, condemning religious persecution by the Government as a "crime" against Chinese Christians.
In an open letter to local security officials, lawyers are demanding justice for the attack on Sjuitou Salvation Church in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, about 500km south of Shanghai, the Telegraph reports.
At 3am local time on 21 July, around 400 police officers attempted to move a cross from the roof of the church, resulting in a bloody clash with members who were guarding the building.
Police reportedly used iron batons to beat those who stood in their way, and one congregant suffered a fractured skull.
The cross was later removed from the church on August 14.
Salvation church is just one of hundreds to be targeted in Zhejiang province – at least 360 have already been completely or partially demolished, apparently as a result of defying building regulations.
Local Christians, however, believe they are being specifically targeted by the Communist Government which sees Christianity as a rival to its power.
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Fourteen lawyers are now attempting to sue officials over the attack on Salvation church, which they claim was unlawful.
"The wanton demolition of crosses and persecution of Christians" must end, the lawyers contend in their letter.
"It has been proven that religious belief is important for the maintenance of social stability....while religious persecution is one source of social instability," they add.
Religious freedom protections are limited to those who worship within state-sanctioned religious bodies in China. Those who choose to practise their faith outside of these, or whose beliefs are not officially recognised by the Government, are at often accused of participating in illegal activities, which carries heavy punishment.
However, even those who worship within state-approved 'Three-Self' churches are now facing difficulties. Despite heavy persecution, there are now thought to be 100 million Christians in China – a significant increase from the one million believers when the Communist party came to power in 1949.
One of the signatories, Wang Hongjie, told The Telegraph that the recent crackdown on churches may actually encourage Christians to start "playing an active role in political affairs" rather than reject their faith, contrary to the alleged plans of the Government.