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Spy cameras going into churches

BEIJING (UCAN): China has tightened the squeeze on Christians by forcing Catholic and Protestant Churches in the heavily Christian province of Zhejiang to install CCTV cameras both in and outside their buildings.

The government wants the unofficial and the official Catholic communities in Zhejiang to install surveillance cameras in their parish compounds by the end of March.

A priest running under the name of Father Francis, from the unofficial community, said that technicians have been at work installing the CCTV cameras since 2016 to maintain social order.

He added that all the parishes that he goes to had received an order of installation by March 15.

This move comes on the back of a campaign to remove crosses from Church buildings in the eastern coastal province in recent years, which saw an estimated 1,700 of them removed from the top of Protestant and Catholic churches.

Church venues have also been required to fly a national flag, put up a bulletin board for religious policy propaganda and have a Communist Party member stationed there.

“Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin, an unofficial community bishop who is not recognised by the government, felt helpless to resist the demand. Some of the people feel angry, but some are ignorant, not knowing or caring about the issue,” Father Francis explained.

A person from the official Church community calling himself Joseph, said priests have resisted the move.

“Officials installed cameras inside the church hall before the funeral of late Bishop Zhu Weifang in September 2016. But we removed them. Then they installed cameras outside the church,” he said.

Priests from the official community circulated a text message encouraging people to bargain with officials, but advised them to act with wisdom since the situation could vary.

“It is not only worthy of praise, but encourages others to follow suit… everyone’s consensus is that no camera should be installed inside a Church hall,” the message says.

It adds that in some cases, officials promised that only one CCTV camera would be installed on top of a church wall or fence, although this proposal is not ideal, it is currently the best way to get around the impasse.

Joseph described the requirement of hoisting a national flag and installing CCTV cameras as being aimed at putting a tighter control on the Church.

Religious policy in China has tightened since the president, Xi Jinping, came to power.

Joseph explained that the authorities have been suppressing and controlling the growth of Christianity in recent years to eliminate the influence of various denominations.

China Aid, a Christian rights advocacy group based in the United States of America, says that CCTV cameras have been installed “in almost all government-registered Churches in Zhejiang to monitor the homilies of the preachers, the number of Church-goers and their activities.”

Zhejiang province has a Protestant population of around two million while Catholics number around 210,000.

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