Hospitals in an eastern province of China have banned all kinds of religious activity, including receiving pastors, praying for the sick and preaching, in the latest crackdown on Christianity.
According to Asia News, an official Roman Catholic press agency, public hospitals have been told that "all forms of religious activity are banned". The Wenzhou Central Hospital was told to post the notice its walls, and nurses and other medical staff were told to inform patients and visitors.
Wenzhou, in Zhejiang province, has been dubbed the 'Jerusalem of China' because it has had so much missionary activity in the past, and now has around a million Christians living in the city.
"The religious activities in the hospital have never been encouraged," an unnamed employee at the hospital told the news agency. "But some prayed silently, which is understandable: on the other hand we are all here to support patients. But others made noise, reading the Bible or reciting prayers aloud. And that's not good".
Two years ago, authorities in the Zhejiang region started to remove crosses from buildings, and when two pastors protested they were sentenced to 12 and 14 years of imprisonment. Many human rights lawyers who have worked on behalf of these churches have been arrested.
Bob Fu at US based Christian group China Aid told Radio Free Asia that the crackdown in Zhejiang is spreading to neighbouring provinces, including Anhui and Inner Mongolia.
"The Chinese government is taking its persecution of religious believers to another level," Fu told RFA. "They are doing it in the name of the rule of law, but actually it's very clear that there is an element of wanting all religion to be Chinese in character. The international community should be aware that are stepping up the pressure on religious practice, so that there is gradually less and less freedom."
International Christian Concern, a US-based persecution charity, said: "After the demolition of crosses and churches in the province of Zhejiang, the Chinese government has decided to target hospitals. The majority of the hospitals in the region have basically been operated in some capacity by religious organizations. The Communist Party of China has determined Zhejiang to be the front lines of their battle to eliminate Christianity from its shores."
China Aid has recently highlighted a central Chinese province that stopped Christians from receiving welfare because they were attending church.
A new report from the US State Department criticised China for its persecution of believers despite the constitutional right of freedom of religion. "Over this past year, there continued to be reports that the government physically abused, detained, arrested, tortured, sentenced to prison, or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices," the report said.