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New crackdown on house Churches

BEIJING (AsiaNews): The China Aid Association claims that Beijing has already launched an all-out campaign against house Churches, their ministers and members, and that their eradication is planned to be completed within a 10-year period.

The association says it bases its claim on Communist Party sources and documents.

Over the past 30 years, Protestant house Churches have become a major phenomenon, with 50 to 80 million people meeting in homes or non-public places to pray, conduct religious ceremonies and hold assemblies.

They have rejected the official Protestant Churches, as they say they guilty of bowing to the Communist Party rather than to God.

The authorities have made attempts to suppress the movement by jailing pastors, torturing people and destroying homes and places of worship. A campaign to force underground communities to join official organisations, such as the Movement of Three Autonomies, was launched before the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

According to documents cited by the China Aid Association, the new eradication campaign includes a thorough, intensive and secret investigation of house Churches throughout the country, with the intention of creating files on them during the first half of this year.

Within three years it is planned to have closed down all communities that have been investigated and to complete this process across the country within 10 years.

Members of house Churches say that registration and filing of information is indeed being carried out with great precision, and that the police and officials from the State Administration for Religious Affairs are interrogating religious leaders and believers to find out more about their activities.

They say they are also being advised to join the Movement of Three Autonomies, a government body set up to control activities of Protestant Churches similar to the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association for the Catholic Church.

Seminars on patriotism are being organised for believers to encourage them to join official communities and submit to government policy.

Training courses have also been set up for clergy to get a permit to preach.

At the National Work Conference on Religious Affairs on January 9, the deputy director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, Jiang Jianyong, said that the process of certifying and creating files on clergy would be completed this year.

He added that the Regulations on Religious Affairs would come into effect at that time.

Consequently, any religious activity outside of the state regulations would be deemed illegal and anyone involved could in them could be prosecuted.

The director of the conference, Wang Zuo’an, expects the process to work. In October 2011, he had said that the problem of house Churches doesn’t exist.

AsiaNews says that many members of unofficial Catholic communities now fear that they will be next. In recent months, police have arrested, detained or invited priests and lay people for a friendly chat, advising them to join the Patriotic Association.

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