Under the new regulations even established sites for religious activities must be ‘in harmony with the needs of urban planning’. This means that even state-controlled churches are subject to review. The rules give local government officials the power to decide whether churches should be recognised by the state and to forbid the use of venues as places of worship.
The first indications that the clampdown is spreading to officially recognised churches came last December, when the authorities demolished a 20-year-old Catholic church in Shanxi, even though it held authorised legal permits.
Since June last year, officials have required government-run Three-Self Churches to display the national flag and sing the national anthem at their services.
China has become a country of key concern for Release International. Persecution has grown under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, as the Communist Party tightens its control over the church.
China’s leaders are worried about the rapid spread of Christianity in their country. The revival of the Protestant church in Zhejiang has led to a wave of 1500 crosses being pulled down from church roofs and some churches being demolished. The authorities say this is to ‘contain the overheated growth of Christianity’. And the cross removals are now being extended to other provinces.
Christians who have launched legal protests over the cross removals have been beaten up and arrested. Some Christian leaders have been sentenced to ten years imprisonment for mounting a legal challenge.
Many human rights lawyers, including Christians, have also been arrested. They have been denied visits by their families or legal representation.