Wenzhou (AsiaNews) – Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang arrested 16 Protestant believers and clergymen “on suspicion of ‘running an illegal business,’ ‘obstructing official duty,’ and ‘running secret accounting procedures’,” a lawyer for the church members told Radio Free Asia.
The reality is different though. “They were detained because they refused to allow the cross to be taken down, and so they arrested them,” lawyer Pang Kun said.
Out of the eight clergymen and preachers held, none of whom had been released by Wednesday evening local time, Radio Free Asia reported.
Only seven of them are known to be under criminal detention, lawyer Pang said, but the status of the other has yet to be confirmed. In any case, the charges are “random stuff”.
Everything began when “They were called in for a chat,” said a pastor who declined to be named. “I don’t think they’ve come out since, because I have asked about them.”
Similarly, nothing is also known of Rev Zhang Chongyang, who was taken into custody in Pingyang County.
Since 2013, when Zhejiang was designated as an area of great economic development for 2020, the authorities have launched a policy of "beautifying" the region by removing illegal structures.
Called ‘Three Rectifications and One Demolition,’ the campaign indicates the percentage of buildings to destroy, and land to be recovered for large-scale building development.
According to the provincial government, all communities and private places are affected without distinction. However, Christian sites have been the campaign’s main target.
Catholics note that the first destruction orders were issued after Zhejiang party secretary Xia Baolong noted during an inspection that a church in Baiquan was too visible and an “eyesore”.
Seeing that the skyline was full of crosses, he gave the order to "rectify" it. Since then, the party has been tearing down crosses, statues and churches.
Christians have not stood idly by. On 24 July, Mgr Vincent Zhu Weifang, the Catholic bishop of Wenzhou, who is almost 90, and 26 priests from his diocese, staged a protest outside the main government building in order to demand an end to the policy.
Some Protestant communities have also prepared a long memorandum in which they describe the campaign as "little more than a bad joke".
Catholic clergymen from the underground Church have joined in, under the leadership of coadjutor bishop Mgr Peter Shao Zguhin, who released an open letter slamming the removal of crosses from churches.
As a response to the policy of cross removal, Catholics and Protestants are working together in a campaign dubbed ‘Build and carry the Cross’.
As part of this, a Catholic priest has called on the faithful to join the “safe, legal and non-violent campaign,” adding that “As of tomorrow, we shall see crosses all over Zhejiang province.”