As the Communist Party of China continues to tighten its grip on the regulation of religion and religious activity, a human rights group is reporting that officials are disrupting religious rites and ceremonies such as funerals and weddings that take place outside of church buildings.
Bitter Winter, a magazine documenting human rights and religious freedom abuses in China, reported that attendees of such ceremonies have been threatened with investigation and jail, and in some cases have been arrested and detained for more than two weeks at a time.
The crackdowns are part of the government’s campaign to “sinicize” religion, bringing it into unity with Communist Chinese culture. The report comes just five days after Chris Smith (R-NJ), co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, told a congressional hearing that the state of religious freedom in China has “never been worse than it is right now.”
On April 12 of this year, Chinese government officials broke up an 11-person Christian funeral in the province of Henan that was honoring a deceased member of the congregation. Officials accused attendees of “hiding” their actions in the countryside, and threatened them with jail time, according to Bitter Winter reports. The police registered the personal contact information of the attendees and told them that they could be investigated at any time.
In February, in another city in the same province, officials interrupted another Christian funeral for an elderly person. Local authorities reportedly threatened attendees with arrest for holding a religious service outside of a church building, and the attendees dispersed.
Bitter Winter reports that interrupting religious funerals dates back to at least 2017, when a pre-funeral Christian ceremony, also in Henan, was interrupted by officials who declared the activities to be “illegal.” All of the 20-some attendees were detained. Some were released shortly thereafter due to old age or illness, while six attendees were held for up to 15 days in custody.
Also in April of this year, in the province of Jilin, a Taoist temple director was arrested at his temple after someone posted a video online showing a prayer ceremony honoring martyrs. Tipped off by the video, officials investigated the temple on April 17. While the director had obtained the necessary permit to hold such an event, officials told him: “Even if you have a certificate, it’s still unacceptable. You’re deceiving the common people, and this is illegal,” Bitter Winter reported.
Chinese officials also attempted to block a wedding at a church in Henan by requiring attendees to write their names down in a registry, and by disallowing any other festivities outside of the church and banning attendees under the age of 18. A church director told Bitter Winter that he thinks the regulations were put in place to dissuade people from planning weddings in the church. The March wedding was cancelled after the restrictions were put in place.
Read more at Catholic News Agency.