The Chinese New Year on February 12 looks set to herald another year of crackdown against Christians and religious minorities in the country, warns UK-based Release International, which supports persecuted Christians around the world.
2020 saw an increase in the mass digital surveillance of Christians and Uyghur Muslims, as part of President Xi Jinping’s sinicisation campaign – a sharp tightening of control over any signs of difference or suspected dissidence in China.
That growing intolerance is evident in Hong Kong, where the clampdown on democracy campaigners has been watched with dismay around the world.
‘The Chinese authorities have also been moving under cover of Covid to accelerate their crackdown against the Chinese Church,’ says Paul Robinson, the CEO of Release International.
‘Our partners say persecution is now as severe as at any time since Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Given the ongoing repression in Hong Kong and of the Uyghur people, increased persecution for the Church over the Chinese New Year seems inevitable.
‘Not only have we seen continued attempts to eradicate the house church movement, but we’ve seen China taking increasingly public steps towards shutting down and controlling its officially sanctioned churches, including demolition.’
China has developed a powerful system of digital surveillance, which it has integrated with the apparatus of the state. The country is said to have installed more than half a billion surveillance cameras, many with state-of-the-art face-recognition systems.
These are linked to China’s social credit system, giving the authorities the means to punish so-called offenders by deducting their welfare or pension payments.
‘Digital authoritarianism is a growing challenge,’ says Release partner Bob Fu, a pro-democracy campaigner who was driven into exile. ‘The Chinese Communist Party has hundreds of millions of face-recognition cameras all over China. They keep watch over every street corner, from the four walls of church buildings and even from pulpits.’
Online worship or prayer meetings – a lifeline for the rest of the world during lockdown – have been banned. China has an army of cyber-security forces, professional and volunteers, monitoring the Internet, tasked with reporting illegal religious online activities.
Similar advanced surveillance techniques have been used against the persecuted Uyghur people in Xinjiang. According to Bob Fu of ChinaAid: ‘Many of the farmers in Xinjiang were forced to buy a smartphone pre-programmed by the Public Security Bureau with spy software.’
Upwards of a million Uyghurs have been rounded up into re-education camps – some observers believe the figure could be as high as 1.8 million.
Most of the Uyghur people are Muslims, but among them are Christians, who face persecution because of both their ethnicity and their faith.
One such is agriculturalist Alimujiang Yimiti. He was arrested in 2008 and sentenced to 15 years in prison for allegedly leaking state secrets.
Alimujiang told a friend over the phone that Chinese citizens were being monitored by their own state security.
He was clearly right about that, because his own phone was being bugged and he was arrested.
And for stating what is widely known and clearly visible on every street corner, he was accused of leaking a state secret.
Alimujiang was sent to prison and made to wear headphones tuned into communist propaganda 24 hours a day. He was also forced to memorise and repeat what he heard.
There have been reports that brainwashing of this nature is being carried out against the Uyghur people in China’s so-called re-education camps.
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SOURCE: Assist News