BosNewsLife Asia Service
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)– Chinese police and some 1,000 government supporters destroyed a large church and beat believers in China’s Jiangsu province, despite court orders to protect the building, Chinese Christians said Monday, December 22.
The incident apparently happened last week, December 17, when security forces, government officials and an angry crowd arrived at the Chengnan Christian Church of Tinghu District, in the city of Yancheng.
“The destruction of this registered church came less than 24 hours after it won a court case protecting their building against the same individuals who attacked it,” said China Aid Association (CAA), a major advocacy group in a statement to BosNewsLife.
It said the mob took away church properties and beat over 10 Christians. “Contacts report that the destruction was the result of government officials and powerful businessmen working in collusion to obtain the coveted church property by force,” CAA added.
The 800-member Chengnan Christian Church of Tinghu District was formally established in late 1999, and registered with local authorities to enable the construction of the building with individual donations and a loan, Christians said.
In 2003 the congregation bought about 66 acres of land for the church building and construction of the building was completed in February 2005.
Soon after, Sunday worship services began with Pastor Ding Jianling reportedly saying: “The grace of the Lord is overflowing, and the investment of five million yuan ($731,000) on the church all comes from the loving donations from brothers and sisters over the past 10 years or so and is the fruit of hard work. Now, the temple of God is built.”
However in 2006, real estate developers began to pressure the church to leave the land on which it was built, Christians said. The developers allegedly used connections within local authorities to build commercial housing units.
Amid mounting pressure, the church said it was willing to hold negotiations, however real estate developers and government agencies allegedly wanted to pay less than half of the money spend on constructing the church. They also refused to provide land to replace the demolished church, according to CAA investigators.
Because Chengnan Christian Church refused to accept the conditions, Christians said, real estate developers collaborated with relevant agencies to harass the church by cutting off water and electricity supplies.
In addition, in January and May, angry crowds reportedly surrounded the church in in an attempt to demolish the building but failed. In August a real estate developer allegedly beat up one church member so badly that the victim had to be hospitalized, CAA said. The developer was apparently required to pay for the medical expenses.
To protect themselves from harassment from Yacheng government officials and real estate developers, the church filed a lawsuit in Tinghu District Court, CAA said. “On December 16, Tinghu District Court ruled in favor of Chengnan Christian Church.” However despite the ruling, a crowd interrupted a prayer servive of over 50 Christians.
“A large number of police officers and unidentified people suddenly broke in. Without showing identification or giving any explanation, the police officers and attackers dragged the Christians outside the church, while hundreds of government officials, police officers, security guards and a large number of unidentified people gathered outside the church,” CAA said.
The crowd allegedly began demolished the gate of the church, the office and other structures. “Some of the mob loaded debris into trucks and hauled it away. When approximately 10 members of the church tried to stop the attackers, they were beaten,” CAA said, quoting witnesses.
Damages were estimated at some three million yuan (nearly $440,000). Officials allegedly boasted they would come again in three days to continue the demolition. Chinese officials had no immediate comment.
In published remarks, Pastor Ding Jianling said he is very sad that the church has been destroyed and that “the brothers” were beaten. He reportedly said he had urged Christians to pray for the church and that “the authorities will repent for what they have done and may they be forgiven.”
CAA described the incident as “a serious incident of religious persecution” case exposing the government’s persecution against a Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) church, altough TSPM churches are registered and approved by the government.
The central government has demanded on many occasions, both in China and abroad, that churches register, claiming that once churches are registered, they will receive legal protection by the government,” Bob Fu, CAA president and a former house church pastor .
“How the government handles the Yancheng incident will be the touchstone to test the validity of their claim, freedom of religion and rule of law in China.” Rights groups have suggested there has been concern within China’s Communist government over the spread of Christianity in the country. Communist officials have been quoted as saying there are an estimated 130 million Christians in China, far more than previous estimates. (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from China).