Dozens of Chinese Christians were injured trying to protect their church from being destroyed by bulldozers authorized by authorities in Wangcun village in China's northern Shanxi province.
Video footage of the incident shared by AsiaNews shows thousands of Christians attempting to block the bulldozers from demolishing the church property. They can be heard shouting "Jesus save me!" and "Mother Mary, have pity on us" as government officials surround them.
Security officers assaulted Frs. Chen Jun, Gao Binglong, Ma Ning, Shen Xuezhong and several church members, according to ucanews.com.
"The security officers and workers left only to discuss countermeasures. I fear that they will come back," Father Shen, parish priest of Wangcun Church, told the outlet.
Authorities had originally authorized the restoration of the church, which dates back to the early 20th century, after it was demolished back in 1992 before being rebuilt as a factory. The village committee then handed back the property to the Changzhi Diocese in 2012.
However, a few weeks ago, the Communist Party District Committee, along with district authorities, decreed the demolition of the entire area, including the walls and the church building, to build a plaza "to enrich the life of the people".
"We lodged a complaint in April," Shen said. "The local authority set up an investigative team that was meant to negotiate with the diocese, but there was no right of reply about their proposal, and so they straight away tried to demolish it by force."
"If it is demolished, the authority would not give any compensation to the diocese. We surely will not agree," he said.
Local authorities told church members the demolition is based on a city government requirement to "demolish the old and broken." However, China launched the "Three Rectification and One Demolition" campaign three years ago, Christian structures have been targeted. So far, over 1,500 crosses have been removed from church rooftops, and dozens churches labelled "illegal structures" have been demolished.
Last year, the wife of an underground Protestant clergyman suffocated to death after she was buried alive trying to defend her church from demolition. Her husband, who was also buried, managed to survive.
At the time, China Aid President Bob Fu spoke about the vicious killing by saying, "bulldozing and burying alive Ding Cuimei, a peaceful and devout Christian woman, was a cruel, murderous act."
Fu added in a statement: "This case is a serious violation of the rights to life, religious freedom and rule of law. The Chinese authorities should immediately hold those murderers accountable and take concrete measures to protect the religious freedom of this house church's members."
Officially, China is an atheist country, but constitutionally guarantees religious freedom. Currently, the Party is believed to have around 88 million members, whereas there may be up to 100 million Christians in China today.