Church coronavirus aid confiscated as China imposes further restrictions on religious freedom

Published Thursday, February 06, 2020  |  
(Photo: Reuters)People wearing protective masks are seen at a subway station in Shanghai, China January 23, 2020.

Chinese officials seized church aid destined for hospitals in coronavirus-hit Wuhan, Christians in the country have reported.

According to International Christian Concern (ICC) a Chinese Christian tweeted on January 27, "Some overseas Christians shipped supplies designated to serve local hospitals through local churches. Yet the supplies were confiscated."

The tweet added, "And the Christian who received the shipment was invited to 'have tea' with the police."

Despite this, Release International, which supports persecuted Christians worldwide, said that Christians in Wuhan have been handing out face masks on the street and sharing their faith with passers-by.

Over the weekend, the Chinese government tightened its grip on places of worship with the introduction of tough new rules requiring churches to seek state approval for major meetings and activities.

The regulations will increase the monitoring of churches' relationships with overseas Christians and organisations, with donations over £11,000 received from outside China having to be reported.

Church structuring also stands to be affected as staff changes, training and building work must all now be reported to officials.

Release said that religious leaders must "display complete devotion to the Chinese Communist Party".

Article 5 of the new regulations reads, "Religious organisations must spread the principles and policies of the Chinese Communist Party... educating religious personnel and religious citizens to support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party... and following the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics."

Release partner, Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid, said that the rules codify the Chinese Communist Party's "ideological and leadership supremacy over all religious affairs in China".

"From now on, the Chinese Communist Party will become the head of the churches, temples, mosques, and other religious institutions," he said.

"They will dominate every sphere of religion, from religious doctrines and leadership selection, to financial management."

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said that the outbreak of the coronavirus has proved to be another obstacle to Christians being able to meet, with many services and gatherings cancelled, and much of the country under travel restrictions.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas called on China to respect religious liberty.

"These new administrative regulations come at a time when members of religious groups across China have faced mounting violations of their right to freedom of religion or belief in recent years, including arbitrary detention, forced closure of churches, harassment and intimidation of religious adherents, and even torture," he said.

"We call on China to ensure that the right to freedom of religion or belief, as articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is fully respected, and we urge the international community to take every opportunity to raise these and other human rights concerns with China in bilateral and multilateral engagements."