China has upped its persecution of Christians, with Communist Party officials in Guangzhou offering a hefty reward to those who can provide information about underground churches, secret Christians, and others involved in "illegal" religious activity.
Guangzhou's Department of Ethnic and Religious Affairs recently announced on its website that it would pay up to 10,000 Chinese yuan (around $1,500) for information leading to the arrest of Christian and other religious leaders, the Epoch Times reports. Smaller rewards are offered for information about churches and other religious meeting places built or used without permission from authorities
The regulation, called "Incentives to Motivate the Masses to Report on Illegal Religious Activities," will provide clues and assistance to "relevant government departments" for tracking down "illegal religious groups or members."
Guangzhou authorities characterized "illegal activities" as establishing places of religious worship without government approval; holding religious activities in non-religious institutions or locations; accepting religious donations; organizing Chinese citizens to go abroad for religious activities such as seminars, meetings, or worship without approval; or providing religious education without approval.
Bob Fu, founder of the persecution watchdog China Aid, told Voice of America the new regulations will significantly increase the persecution of Christians in the officially atheist country.
"Inciting people to report on others with monetary incentives, which is beyond the bottom line of morality, only appeared during the Cultural Revolution, when children would report their parents, a wife would report her husband, and colleagues would report one another," Fu said.
The new regulations come just weeks after Xu Xiaohong, chairman of the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, which oversees Protestant Christianity in China, warned that anti-China forces were using Christianity to subvert state power.
"[We] must recognize that Chinese churches are surnamed 'China', not 'the West,'" he told delegates to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. "The actions by anti-China forces that attempt to affect our social stability or even subvert the regime of our country are doomed to fail."
Persecution of Christians in China has ramped up since 2016, when Chinese leader Xi Jinping announced the government's policy of reducing Western influence on religion and making it "more Chinese," a process dubbed sinicization.
Recently, Chinese authorities arrested just over 40 Christians worshiping in homes after the closure of Chengdu's Early Rain Covenant Church. Their arrests came after over 160 more arrests of church members were made last year.
China ranks as the 27th worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA's World Watch List.
In March, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, during a speech given to faith leaders in Taylors, South Carolina, criticized China for its continued persecution of Chinese Christians in the past 20 years.
"As many of you know, Chinese authorities have banned the sale of Christian Bibles; they've destroyed thousands of crosses and other Church symbols, and they have jailed Christian pastors," Pence said.
He added that the U.S. administration would work toward holding China accountable for its abuses. "As we work toward a more free and fair trading relationship with China, our administration will continue to stand strong with people of faith in China. And we will work to convince China to lift the heavy hand of government from the church," he said.