Wenzhou (AsiaNews) - After a month of peaceful protests, Wenzhou authorities this morning began tearing down an official Protestant Sanjiang Church, which is registered with the Three Self Patriotic Movement.
Church members and clergy accuse the government of having infiltrated the church, which has been occupied since the end of March 2014, with phoney Christians to destroy the microphones placed inside the building to keep a record of every activity.
The church is currently surrounded by police officers, who are not allowing anyone to come near.
Ten other churches in Zhejiang province received demolition orders in what seems to be a campaign to undermine the local Christian community.
"I saw three or four excavators out front, demolishing the church, and three or four out back, demolishing the annex building. I also saw a small excavator going inside the church doing demolition work inside," said one anonymous eyewitness who claimed there were around 100 police around the church, making it impossible to get near.
The protest began on 25 March 2014, when the authorities said the church did not respect building regulations and therefore was "illegal".
On 3April, local authorities sent a formal notice to the Protestant congregation warning them that the demolition would take place "within 15 days", claiming that the building was unsafe.
On that same day, the authorities deployed thousands of police agents to "convince" protesters to leave the building and keep them away during the demolition.
Since then, some 3,000 people peacefully took turns inside and outside the church to stop the bulldozers from demolishing the building.
According to Sanjiang Church members and clergy, the decision to demolish the church is politically motivated.
On the one hand, the red cross on the roof has ruffled some feathers. After visiting the building, provincial Communist party boss Xia Baolong said it was "too high". On the other, the church sits on about a thousand square metres and is one of the city's largest buildings.
More importantly, the government seems bent on weakening Christianity in Wenzhou, a coastal city and a Christian stronghold known as the 'Jerusalem of the East' because of its large Christian community.
The authorities deny they are waging an orchestrated campaign against Christian places of worship. However, Feng Zhili, the head of Zhejiang's Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee, complained earlier this year that Christianity's spread had been "too excessive and too haphazard".