China tightens its 'choke-hold' on churches, enforces ban on children worshipping

A Chinese Christian prays at his home in a village in Shanxi province after Chinese authorities forcibly closed down so-called house churches, according to Christian group China Aid.Reuters

China has tightened its 'choke-hold' on churches across the country in recent weeks, according to the rights and religious freedom group China Aid.

Recent bans on unregistered church worship and on teaching Christianity to children 'as if intending to eliminate all house churches at once,' have alarmed Christians in the country, a China Aid source was quoted as saying by Morning Star News.

In the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, a source told China Aid that in the past week police visited members of unregistered church members at their homes to warn them not to attend Christian worship services, and officers also summoned many of them for questioning.

One Christian who wished to remain unnamed, said: 'The police called me again today and ordered me to stay away from church gatherings, which irritated me. I don't know what to do with these people.'

The authorities also reportedly ordered the Christian to write a letter guaranteeing not to attend church services.

Earlier this week the source told China Aid: 'Today, people from the sub-district office went to take pictures of our two church buildings, using inspecting the fire systems as an excuse. People from the religious affairs bureau also called and summoned me for a talk on Friday [7 September].'

Meanwhile, in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province on the eastern coast, children were specifically banned from attending church services, with local officials ordering churches to cancel all activities involving teenagers, Morning Star News reported.

One local Christian told China Aid: 'Many Sunday schools in Wenzhou were shut down. Many teachers sent messages to their colleagues in group chats in order to prevent children from attending religious gatherings.'

In Wenzhou, county-level departments reportedly dispatched officials to more than 100 churches who verbally issued prohibitions against teenagers attending church services, church-related summer camps or Sunday schools and assigned officials to monitor the churches.

'Outraged, the Chinese Christians argued that the government had violated its own laws on protecting minors, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and China's religious freedom regulations,' China Aid reported.

Article 36 of China's Constitution states that all Chinese citizens have freedom of belief, and its Regulations on Religious Affairs supposedly do not forbid children from attending worship services.

But a local Christian identified only as Zhang told China Aid: 'The government is trying to control ideology. During [Chinese Presidents] Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao's time, the government was tolerant toward preaching and missionary work. After Xi Jinping came into power, the government's grip on religion has strengthened.'

In Ezhou, Hubei Province in the eastern part of the country, a conflict between officials and members of a house church that met outdoors after the Communist Party confiscated its chairs and desks on 10 January escalated when government-hired 'thugs' beat five or six Christians on August 22, according to China Aid and Morning Star News.

Previously, such individuals had 'shot firecrackers at the Christians, hurled mud at them, and beaten a woman with high blood pressure unconscious, continuing to kick her even after she fainted'.

'The government often uses excuses in order to investigate churches, such as alleging that they need to perform fire-safety checks, and it is likely the government's so-called suspicions are actually just ruses used in order to sanction the baseless persecution of Christians,' China Aid reported.