Shanxi officials demolish Christian church, pressure congregants into silence

Police and other local officials in the city of Linfen in China's Shanxi province demolished a large Christian church on Jan. 9 and have forced the congregants to keep quiet about it, according to witnesses.

(REUTERS / Jason Lee)A villager climbs up the steps toward a cross near a Catholic church on the outskirts of Taiyuan, North China's Shanxi province, December 24, 2016.

Speaking to Radio Free Asia's Cantonese Service, local witnesses said the efforts made by the Golden Lampstand Church members to stop the demolition failed on Tuesday as the local authorities and officials brought with them cranes and bulldozers to reduce the house of worship to rubble. A church member who spoke to the service over the phone said a large "anti-riot team" carried out the demolition and that he had been placed under house arrest after the incident.

According to Texas-based Christian human rights group ChinaAid, the Golden Lampstand Church had been experiencing pressure from the government since it was established in 2009. The state has reportedly launched a crackdown on house churches and other religious groups that are unsanctioned by the government, and some of the Shanxi church's leaders have been thrown in jail for participating in their religious activities.

On Sep. 13, 2009, ChinaAid said around 400 Shanxi officials assaulted parishioners who slept at the site where the Christian church was being constructed. After that, Pastor Yang Xuan was thrown in jail for more than three years, while his wife Yang Caizhen was sent to a re-education labor camp for two years, where she experienced being beaten up.

International rights groups said the Chinese government has been conducting surveillance and repeated raids on house churches, especially those located in rural areas. The U.S. State Department also released an annual report last year saying authorities in China have been tightening its crackdown on freedom of worship.

This past Christmas season, the ruling Communist Party called for a boycott on the holiday celebrations, fearing that locals were forgetting about their own culture in favor of "western opium." In the city of Hengyang, party members and their families were warned against participating in any Western religious activities, The Express reported.

The Shenyang Pharmaceutical University also forbade its students from celebrating Christmas in a bid to fight the "corrosion of Western religious culture." The school explained that the ban aimed to guide young people into being confident in their own culture.