China has made headlines in its efforts to clean smog from Beijing's Olympic skies, but word is leaking out that the government is also making efforts to clean Christians out of the streets as the games draw near.
"There's been a dramatic rise in cases of persecution that we've seen in the months leading up to the Olympics," a staff writer for China Aid Association, Daniel Burton, told WND. "We've received reports that the government wants to eradicate the house church before the start of the Olympics."
China Aid Association, an organization dedicated to helping persecuted Christians and founded by a man who escaped from China after being imprisoned for teaching Bible classes, maintains ties with China's underground church. Those sources tell CAA that state police have taken up a new tactic: compelling discovered house church Christians in the Beijing area to sign a covenant promising not to meet from July 30 to Sept. 30, the time period the Olympics and Paralympics are being held in the city.
"Reports come from house church members who have been persecuted, and we have direct contact with them," Burton told WND. "Police are making people sign the covenant then taking it away, so we can't get our hands on the actual document. But it's been reported from people that police are making them sign the covenant not to meet."
Burton told WND that in most cases, the Beijing Public Security Bureau uses the same terror-raid tactics to stifle free associations of Christians in what the government calls the "unregistered church": Police storm a building where a house church is meeting, arrest the pastor, disband the members and warn them not to meet again.
Those arrested in the raids are charged with "participation in evil cults" or "disrupting social order," Burton reports.
The compulsory covenants to stop meeting during the Olympic season are only the latest tactic in the Chinese government's attempt to strangle the freedom of religion – or at least Christian religion – in the country.
WND reported earlier, citing sources at the CAA and Voice of the Martyrs, that China expelled more than 100 foreign Christian missionaries over a 90-day period last fall, the largest expulsion of foreign religious workers since 1954.
WND also reported CAA learned from reliable internal Chinese government sources the country's Ministry of Public Security created a list of 11 categories of people that would be barred from attending the Olympics. Among the blacklisted will be "people who illegally distribute religious publications and video-audio materials" and "people who have illegally established both in China and abroad religious organizations, institutions, schools, sermon sites and other religious entities."
Burton also confirmed a WND story that told of the arrest and persecution of pastor "Bike" Zhang Mingxuan, chairman of the Federation House Church in Beijing.
"Bike has been chased out of Beijing by police, who refuse to let hotel owners or apartment owners rent to him," Burton said. "They chased him out so he can't be around reporters."
Despite signing a United Nations pledge to give citizens basic human rights and freedoms, including the freedom to worship as people see fit, China has established a government-sanctioned church called the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, or TSPM. The TSPM churches are required to report to the government, list who is welcomed in, list who is speaking and detail what's being preached. Christians who meet outside the TSMP in house churches or "unregistered churches" are subject to persecution.
"The government has been finding these house churches, knocking down the doors, arresting the pastors, beating and interrogating members of the church – all illegal according to China's own religious laws – in order to get these people shut down," Burton told WND.
Shi Weihan and his family (China Aid Association photo)
In a press release about an imprisoned Christian bookstore owner, the CAA stated, "The host of the Olympic Games, which signify honor and freedom amongst world citizens, has continued to mock the world community by pledging to uphold religious freedom while simultaneously persecuting its own citizens for their personal beliefs."
The bookstore owner, Shi Weihan, was first arrested late last year, when police discovered he ran a house church in the building next to his Holy Spirit Christian Bookstore in Beijing. The Beijing Public Security Bureau closed the store, confiscated the books, arrested Shi, arrested and interrogated his wife, then released her but kept Shi imprisoned for two weeks.
After Shi's case received international attention, the government released him.
In March, however, Shi was arrested again, and he's been held imprisoned ever since. The CAA reports that Shi, who is diabetic, has been barred from seeing his family, has only met once with his attorney and his physical condition is deteriorating. The CAA reports that BPSB has been known to use sleep deprivation, beatings and electric shock batons on their prisoners, and they have no idea if any of these techniques are contributing to his decrease in health.
"We put out such an effort to get him released the first time," Burton told WND. "The Chinese government has completely ignored the international outcries, spitting in the international community's face by re-arresting him."