'There is no longer a safe place to be a Christian in China' - report

(Photo: Getty/iStock)

The Chinese government is increasingly cracking down on state-sanctioned churches as well as underground churches, leaving no "safe place" for Christians, according to International Christian Concern.

A new report by ICC tracks persecution of Christians in China since July 2021 and records 32 cases of arrests and detainments, five raids on Christian schools, and 20 cases of the Sinicization of churches - where churches are forced to align their faith with the social and political messaging of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). 

The ICC said that exact numbers were likely to be far higher because of the challenges of receiving information from China.

"The government's scrutiny of Christians is part of a wider effort to Sinicize the country by coercing religious groups to submit to the communist CCP ideology," the report said. 

"The Religious Affairs Bureau and the CCP have one single goal regarding religion: to prevent religious influence from threatening their communist control."

State-sanctioned churches are especially susceptible to the Chinese government's Sinicization efforts.

"All state-approved churches are required to raise the national flag, place regulations on worship, incorporate core socialist values into sermons, and maintain traditional Chinese culture," the report said.

The ICC report says that a new measure implemented by the Chinese government in June, called the 'National Religious Organizations Common Initiative on Cultivating Frugality and Abstaining from Extravagance', has allowed it to "tighten its grip" on major religions in China.

"State-sanctioned churches today are increasingly at the mercy of laws and non-legislative regulations introduced by the government," said ICC.

"State-vetted churches have decided to follow the regulations, thereby pressuring unregistered churches to follow suit.

"Three-Self churches are part of the legal framework the CCP uses to systemically curb Christianity. If a church is not registered as a state-sanctioned church, the church is violating the law and the CCP can step in at any time to shut down churches, prosecute individuals, and put enormous social pressure on attendees.

"With the intensified crackdown against churches— both state-vetted and underground—there is no longer a safe place to be a Christian in China.

Covid-19 has also had a lasting impact on religious liberty in China as the pandemic was used as a pretext to introduce more restrictions on religious activity. 

"Restrictions on religious activity have spread as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. While public and commercial places such as malls, markets, restaurants, and libraries were allowed to open, church activities were banned by the government.

"One report revealed that the state used epidemic prevention as a pretext to prevent churches from gathering to celebrate Christmas in Shandong, Anhui, and Guangdong provinces," the report said.

Even meeting online has become difficult after the Chinese government announced in March that it was banning online religious activity. 

Under the ban, Chinese churches and religious organizations must register with the state and receive permission to post religious content online.

"The regulation was established to ensure all religious activity aligns with the Communist Party's agenda," ICC said.

Data in the report has been drawn mostly from the ICC, ChinaAid, the Union of Catholic Asia News and Radio Free Asia.

"ICC's incident report continues to be a testament to China's intensified crackdown against Chinese Christians and churches despite Beijing's repeated claim that 'respecting and protecting freedom of religious belief is the basic policy of the CCP and the Chinese government in dealing with religion'," said Gina Goh, ICC's regional manager for Southeast Asia.

"In every aspect of a Christian's religious life, the CCP wants to interfere and insert its ideology, a control that is detrimental to China's religious liberty." 

Jay Church, ICC's advocacy manager for Southeast Asia and co-author of the report, said that the international community "must pay attention to China's ongoing campaign against religion".

"There's no excuse for continued inaction," said Church.

"The Chinese government does not allow religion except to the extent it can manipulate religion into a tool to increase the power of the CCP.

"It is to be hoped that this report will serve to increase the volume on an issue that is too often quietly ignored in halls of power around the world."