By BosNewsLife Asia Service
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)-- Chinese Christians say authorities in China have shut down a church-run academy in the central Henan province as the ruling Communist Party has intensified government control over religious activities ahead of an important political meeting next month.
Officials reportedly accused the teachers of "brainwashing" students with Christianity. One of the teachers, identified only by the last name Zhu, said in published remarks seen by BosNewsLife that national security officers confiscated the textbooks for the home-based academy which offered theology classes for children. Additionally, they removed other items belonging to the church, she added.
Security forces also went to her home in July before closing the Christian institution after receiving a tip that students were being "'brainwashed' with religion," added China Aid, which has close contacts with the Christians.
The latest reported crackdown came while news emerged that China's cabinet, the State Council, updated a set of 2005 regulations governing religious and faith activities by its citizens.
Activists say the revised edition of its "Regulations on Religious Affairs" intensify punishments for unsanctioned religious activities. That was expected to target the growing number of home churches and Christian schools in China as well as other minorities.
It bans the use of religion as "a tool to sabotage national security, social order or China’s education system, or to damage ethnic unity or carry out terrorist activities."
Such charges are often used by authorities against Christian house churches and other religious groups, according to several advocacy groups.
Under the new rules, supervision of "certain groups" will increase and include a ban on foreign funding for any religious group, including house churches and education, according to several sources familiar with the situation.
However, "although threats from the government are strong, many Chinese believers insist on taking their children to church and other Christian-related activities," said Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC) in a reaction.
"In response, the government has further enforced its prohibition on children attending religious events in the revised edition of its "Regulations on Religious Affairs" which is scheduled to take effect next February."
Besides closing an academy, government officials earlier raided "underground churches" and detained pastors on several occasions, well-informed Christians say.
Among recent known incidents ChinaAid previously mentioned a Taiwanese Christian pastor who it said "was arrested for singing the worship song "Jesus Love You" in Zhengzhou, Henan province, where officials claimed it was an "illegal religious activity."
The U.S. State Department's 2016 International Religious Freedom Report, which called out China for a number of abuses against Christians and religious minorities, was criticized by Chinese authorities.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying argued in August that the world's most populous nation protects religious freedom, and urged the U.S. to take care of its own problems, such as racial tensions.
However, ChinaAid President Bob Fu says China is "incorrect" in drawing a comparison between the two countries. "The Chinese government is directly responsible for their abuses, while the U.S. government is not necessarily responsible for racism," Fu told The Christian Post publication recently.
He added that China "implements local and national policies that target specific groups of people and even goes so far as to hold official conferences about how to properly execute these policies. This denotes a direct government responsibility for the abuses."