Communist authorities in China are using efforts to control the coronavirus pandemic to step up enforcement action against Christians who worship in house churches, government insiders have told the human rights and religious freedom publication Bitter Winter.
China has been battling coronavirus since late 2019, and the virus is believed to have emerged from a “wet market,” selling both living animals and butchered meat, in the city of Wuhan. Since then, multiple Chinese cities have been placed under lockdown in order to stem the spread of the virus.
According to the journalist An Xin, writing in Bitter Winter on Wednesday, the city of Nenjiang, in the northeastern Heilongjiang province, has offered incentives to residents for reporting their neighbors if they are known or suspected to host religious services in their homes.
On February 20, the city’s coronavirus control group, which was created by the Chinese government, released an order that specifically banned providing a location for “illegal religious activities.”
The coronavirus control group said that this was designed to prevent further people from contracting COVID-19. If a house church was discovered, it would be “resolutely shut down,” per the report in Bitter Winter.
Residents of Nenjiang were offered a reward of 5,000 RMB (about $700 U.S.) if they reported suspected illegal religious activity to the authorities.
In January, the leader of a house church in Daqing city in Heilongjiang province was photographed by Chinese officials, and was forced to write and sign a pledge to stop holding religious services.
“Since 2018, community officials have been coming to film me and my house,” the church leader told Bitter Winter.
Read more at Catholic News Agency