Chinese authorities in the restive northwestern region of Xinjiang have banned all Christian activities not linked to state-approved churches, launching a region-wide crackdown on unofficial worship in the name of “anti-terrorism” measures.
Underground Catholic churches and Protestant house churches have been warned to halt all activity throughout the region, Radio Free Asia reported a religious affairs official as confirming.
“Yes, that’s right,” said the official, by phone from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region government’s religious and ethnic minority affairs bureau.
“They all have to worship in [an officially approved] church,” the official said, indicating that both Catholics and Protestants are affected by the new measures.
China is home to an estimated 68 million Protestants, of whom 23 million worship in state-affiliated churches, and some nine million Catholics, 5.7 million of whom belong to state-sponsored organizations.
The atheist Chinese Communist Party has stepped up controls over any form 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, which has no ties with the Vatican.
The administration of President Xi Jinping regards Christianity as a dangerous foreign import, with officials warning last year against the “infiltration of Western hostile forces” in the form of religion.
The new rules have already begun to be implemented in some areas of Xinjiang.
A resident of Aksu in Shayar county said churches in the cities of Aksu and Korla had stopped meeting altogether, and that 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 resident said.