Government officials in China's Zhejiang Province recently ordered surveillance equipment to be installed in churches so they could more easily monitor church activities, according to local, Christian watchdog sources.
Authorities in Zhejiang demanded in March that Three-Self Churches install surveillance cameras, and are sending officials to forcibly set up the devices if the order isn't carried out by church staffs, according to human rights and charitable organization ChinaAid.
ChinaAid representatives stated the authorities' public "reasoning" for the cameras were "safety" and "anti-terrorism" precautions. ChinaAid also said government authorities would consider whether a church previously resisted cross demolitions during a province-wide campaign and would send more agents to those sites.
From March 21-24, ChinaAid said hundreds of police officers converged on Changlin Church in Wenzhou, Zhejiang, to carry out this surveillance task, physically beating Christians who resisted their efforts.
A local Christian said church members questioned why they needed additional surveillance when Three-Self Churches already are heavily monitored and policed by the government. Some Christian women stationed themselves outside the church, according to ChinaAid, fearing a possible church demolition, and were seized for their resistance. They then released once the surveillance cameras were set up. Officials also destroyed the church's reception desk and other parts of the building, including the church's gate so they could enter.
On March 23, ChinaAid reports Shengai Church representatives in Pingyang County, Wenzhou, issued a statement accusing government officials of violating the privacy, disrupting the internal affairs of religious organizations, and breaking laws by installing the cameras. Church staffers claimed the government had no legal basis for these actions, stating that they need to obtain the permission of the church or would otherwise result in an abuse of power and religious freedom.
One online poster, William Smith, on Monday pointed out that government officials already had sanctioned the activities of state-run churches. "They find themselves helpless to prevent the great growth of Christianity across China, so resort to stupid ideas like this, which will intimidate people, but not prevent the gospel," he proclaimed.
"Praise God His word is increasing across China. Praise God hundreds come to faith every day. Praise God His grace is upholding His children whatever sanctions are thrown at them and will continue to do so. Praise God for the courage and vision of those who belong to Him in China. Who can stop the Lord Almighty?"