In China, reporting Christian activities to police pays money

September 30, 2020 by Lindy Lowry in Asia

In parts of China, Christianity continues to be suppressed and stifled—especially with the next generation. We have recent reports that in China’s Gushi County—home to almost 2 million people—citizens have been encouraged to report “illegal” religious activities in exchange for monetary rewards as part of a monthlong campaign.

Reportedly, a reward of 500 yuan (around $73) was promised for photos, video or recordings of religious events between August 20 and September 20.

The fact that Gushi County is directly governed by China’s central Henan province and has the largest registered population in Henan is concerning. Henan province is where China’s underground house church movement began.

The information about the reward came to light when a summer camp hosted by a church in the county was interrupted and raided by government officials who accused the church of holding “illegal” activities. During the raid, plainclothes police confiscated personal and church property and took the pastor and his wife to the police station.

A church member told China Aid that the officials suggested they acted on information from a third party, saying they had received “report from folks.” Earlier, the Gushi County Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau had announced the campaign to reward ordinary citizens for information about “illegal” church activities.

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415 million surveillance cameras

In China, all religious venues and activities that do not have state approval are considered illegal though enforcement of these regulations can vary from place to place. There is also a specific focus on preventing teens and kids from attending church and church camps.

The country, where there are an estimated 97 million Christians, has increasingly ratcheted up its surveillance efforts. In addition to grassroots campaigns, China has installed 415 million surveillance cameras, a number only expected to grow in the coming years. A  study by British technology website Comparitech found that China is home to more than half of the surveillance cameras in use around the world. Some estimates suggest that eventually there may be more cameras than people in China—quite a feat for a country with a population of 1.2 billion.

“As the surveillance dragnet pulls tighter, Christians—particularly those belonging to unregistered churches—will find it much harder to gather even in small groups, no matter whether digitally or in the real world,” said Thomas Müller, persecution analyst with Open Doors’ World Watch Research unit.

Open Doors has warned that the increase in digital surveillance, including the use of biometric technology and artificial intelligence, will put more pressure on Christians and others who are considered a threat to those in power.

“Christian faith is under attack and the methods of that persecution are becoming more sophisticated, and thus pose a greater threat,” says Open Doors CEO David Curry, “because they have the ability to oppress on a massive scale now, and I think it’s a blueprint for others.”

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