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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
International Christian Concern
International Christian Concern (ICC) is troubled by new rules proposed by government officials in the eastern province of Zhejiang, China. In the past few weeks alone, Zhejiang provincial officials have taken down more than a dozen crosses from Christian churches under its "Three Rectifications, One Demolition" policy. The officials have now proposed a total ban on the placement of new crosses atop the sanctuaries of all Christian churches. If the draft is approved, it would also give Zhejiang authorities legal grounds to remove existing rooftop crosses.
The lack of legal justification has not prevented Zhejiang officials from taking down crosses in the meantime, however. Since early 2014, more than 448 churches have had their crosses removed, according to U.S.-based China Aid. At least 15 church crosses have been removed since April 30, with another 10 churches having received threats of cross demolition.
According to a report in the New York Times last year, the campaign against crosses is traceable to a visit to Wenzhou in October 2013 by Xia Baolong, Zhejiang Province's top Communist Party official. He was reportedly upset that one officially sanctioned church, the Sanjiang Church, dominated the local skyline with its 180-foot cross. The Sanjiang Church was demolished in April last year.
A 36-page draft of rules on religious structures released by government agencies in early May says crosses should be wholly affixed to a building facade, be no more than one-tenth of the height of the building, and should fit with the facade and the surroundings. Despite the exacting details of the proposed rules, no rationale is given for the proposal nor have authorities been willing to make any comments.
Although Zhejiang officials refer to the cross demolition campaign in terms of building code violations, critics of the campaign say it demonstrates provincial government concern about the rapid growth of Christianity there. Purdue University's Yang Fenggang, an expert on China's religious issues, said the new restriction could be a power play by authorities, "a formal statement that we are in control."
Reports earlier this year that the government was ending its campaign to take down church crosses appear to have been unfounded. Speaking to the New York Times on the condition of anonymity, one pastor of a church in Wenzhou told of more crosses being removed recently from churches there. "We thought the storm of toppling crosses had stopped," he said, "but it hasn't."
Chris Warner, ICC Regional Manager for Southeast Asia, expressed serious concern about the draft regulations aimed at Chinese Christian churches. "The imposition of these new laws would represent a tightening noose around religious freedoms in China. It appears that Chinese officials, concerned about the growth and influence of the Christian church in China, are anxious to exert their control."
For interviews, contact Christopher Warner, Regional Manager for Southeast Asia: RM-SEAsia@persecution.org
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