HONG KONG (SE): Authorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang in China have banned all Christian activities not linked to state-approved Churches, launching a region-wide crackdown on worship centres of unofficial communities under the guise of instituting anti-terrorism precautions.
Radio Free Asia reported on February 28 that unofficial Catholic communities and Protestant House Churches have been put on notice and commanded to halt all activity throughout the region.
“Yes, that’s right,” an official from the government at the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Religious and Ethnic Minority Affairs Bureau was quoted as saying by telephone.
“They all have to worship in (an officially approved) Church,” the official explained, indicating that both Catholic and Protestant communities will be affected by the new measures.
China is home to an estimated 68 million Protestants, of whom 23 million worship in state-registered Churches.
UCAN reported that the Chinese Communist Party has stepped up controls over all forms 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, both of which regulate activity on behalf of the government.
The administration of the president, Xi Jinping, regards Christianity as a dangerous foreign import, with officials warning last year against the infiltration of hostile western forces in the form of religion.
The new rules have already begun to bite in some areas of Xinjiang.
A resident of Aksu in Shayar said Churches in the city, as well as Korla, had stopped meeting altogether and 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,” the person said.