In a statement released late last month, 34 house churches in Beijing called on the Chinese government to respect the freedom of religious belief clause in the Chinese Constitution. Since Communist officials implemented new religious regulations back in February, house churches around China have faced greater government pressure: In some areas, police have shut down church gatherings, banned children from attending services, and forced churches to take down crosses.
“The normal religious lives of believers have been violated and obstructed, causing serious emotional harm and damage to their sense of patriotism, as well as causing social conflict,” the statement said, according to a translation by Radio Free Asia. “The situation seems to be getting worse and worse.”
The signatories include Beijing Zion Church, one of the largest “house churches” in the country, with 1,600 congregants. In recent months, the government pressured the church’s landlord to evict the congregation after the pastor refused to install surveillance cameras inside the church’s auditorium. Local officials have met with 100 church members with the aim of convincing them to leave the church, threatening their jobs or offering to get their kids into a better school. This week, police shut down six of Zion’s satellite campuses, although the main site remains open, according to China Aid.
Another Beijing house church signatory, Christian Saints Love Fellowship, is also facing eviction and often receives surprise visits from the police, according to Radio Free Asia. Elder Xu Yonghai told RFA he doesn’t expect the statement to bring change from the government: “It’s far more likely that churches will have to put up with further forms of persecution as a result of speaking out.”
Authorities have also shut down Zion Church’s public WeChat account, which had previously posted daily devotionals, sermons, and church announcements. Chinese censors are known to quickly delete information they deem sensitive, including any criticism of the government.
Authorities shut down Zion Church’s public WeChat account, which had previously posted daily devotionals, sermons, and church announcements.
Soon Google may be helping China censor such content. Last week The Intercept reported Google has been working on a censored version of its search engine for Android phones in order to re-enter the China market. The project, code-named “Dragonfly,” would censor searches on topics such as human rights, democracy, and religion on Google platforms, including image search and suggested search.
Google previously created a censored search engine for China in 2006, but withdrew it four years later due to concerns about the Chinese government limiting free speech, blocking websites, and directing hacking attacks on activists. According to The Intercept, only a few hundred of Google’s 88,000 employees knew about the secret project, and many expressed outrage last week when they learned of it.
A bipartisan group of six U.S. senators this week issued a letter asking Google CEO Sundar Pichai for details about the Dragonfly project, which they called “deeply troubling and risks making Google complicit in human rights abuses.” The letter goes on to ask: “What has changed since 2010 to make Google comfortable cooperating with the rigorous censorship regime in China?”