Chinese authorities in the restive northwestern region of Xinjiang have banned all Christian activities not linked to state-approved churches, launching a regionwide crackdown on unofficial worship in the name of “anti-terrorism” measures, RFA has learned.
Underground Catholic churches and Protestant house churches have been warned to halt all activity throughout the region, a religious affairs official confirmed on Thursday.
“Yes, that’s right,” said the official, who answered the phone at the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region government’s religious and ethnic minority affairs bureau.
“They all have to worship in [an officially approved] church,” the official said, indicating that both Catholics and Protestants are affected by the new measures.
China is home to an estimated 68 million Protestants, of whom 23 million worship in state-affiliated churches, and some nine million Catholics, 5.7 million of whom belong to state-sponsored organizations.
But the ruling Chinese Communist Party, which embraces atheism, has stepped up controls over any form of religious practice among its citizens in recent years, putting increasing pressure on faith groups to join the Protestant Three Self Patriotic Association or the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which has no ties with the Vatican.
The administration of President Xi Jinping regards Christianity as a dangerous foreign import, with officials warning last year against the “infiltration of Western hostile forces” in the form of religion.
Rules already in force
Meanwhile, the new rules have already begun to be implemented in some areas of Xinjiang.
A resident of Aksu (in Chinese, Akesu) prefecture’s Shayar (Shaya) county said that churches in the cities of Aksu and Korla had stopped meeting altogether, and that local people had been warned not to meet privately for worship.
“They warned us that we can’t do that, and that we’ll be charged with illegal assembly if we get caught, and be locked up in the detention center,” the resident said.
“It is now banned right across our whole region, including Korla and Aksu,” the resident said. “If we meet we have to do it in secret.”
Authorities at the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps 31st agricultural regiment, part of a regional military-backed organization known as the bingtuan, on Feb. 19 ordered two house churches to close, local sources told RFA.
Both churches were raided by local police and by dozens of officials from the local religious affairs bureau, with 21 members taken to the police station for questioning, they said.
Full story: rfa.org
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Lam Kwok-lap for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
Copyright © 1998-2017, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036. http://www.rfa.org.