Mega-church demolished in China; Government says building was illegal (Photo)
Pictures have emerged on Twitter of bulldozers tearing down the mega church, which was a colossal seven stories high and totalled 100,000 square feet.
Members of the congregation have been protesting at the site for weeks, defending the building from being torn down following a demolition notice from local authorities who claimed that it violated safety and size regulations.
The facts of the case are largely unclear, however, as reports are conflicting. Some suggest that the church is a state-sanctioned 'Three-Self' church, while others indicate that the building was illegally erected.
In response to the situation, church members have accused the government of launching an offensive against Christian places of worship across the country. They claim that accusations of illegal building are merely "a pretext to tear down churches".
Officials have been quick to deny this, however. A representative from the local authority in Sanjiang, Zhang Biyao, told The Telegraph that the "people's safety" is the government's primary concern, and bulldozing the church is not a matter of religious freedom.
"They can believe. This is free. We can't control them," she said.
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Initial negotiations led to an agreement that the church would remover two levels of its annex, though evidently this deal did not materialise. The Telegraph reports that the building has been "reduced to rubble" following its bulldozing yesterday.
In addition, Zhejiang Daily newspaper today announced that the government will "aggressively push on with the demolition of illegal buildings in accordance with the law", including buildings of all religions as well as secular constructions.
Although the right to freedom of religious belief is guaranteed under Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution, that protection is limited to those who worship within state-sanctioned religious bodies. Those who choose to practise their faith outside of these, or whose beliefs are not officially recognised by the Government, are at risk of being accused of participating in illegal activities, which carries heavy punishment.
Wenzhou reportedly has the largest Christian community in China, leading to its nickname 'the Jerusalem of the East'.