The Chinese Communist Party (CPP) is stepping up attempts to prevent information about religious persecution in China from reaching overseas media by threatening pastors with long prison sentences and punishments that could also affect their families.
Leading Party members have ordered officials to “spare no cost” to find sources “leaking state secrets” to report the CCP’s growing persecution of Christians and other minorities.
More than 100 pastors in northern China were grilled by local authorities about documents their churches had received, according to Bitter Winter, which has itself been declared an “overseas hostile website” by the CCP for its reporting on the persecution of minorities and human rights violations in China.
“Interrogations were extremely rigorous: questions were very detailed, asked time and again, to find out if answers are consistent,” said a three-self (i.e. state registered) church leader.
Many of the pastors questioned said afterward that they would no longer be willing to talk about religious persecution.
In southern China, pastors from three-self churches were summoned to a meeting last year to be told that any sharing of documents would be thoroughly investigated. Posts of information on social media and the taking of pictures in church or the distribution of photos were also forbidden.
“The government may deem any shared information as leaks of state secrets or a danger to state security,” explained a three-self church leader. “Anyone taking a photo with a cellphone in the church can be questioned now,” he added.
All government-issued religious meeting venue shutdown and demolition notices issued since 2018 will also be classified as secret under the new rules.
Hundreds of “house churches” and three-self churches have been either shut down or demolished across China as part of the government’s accelerating crackdown against Christianity. Authorities are introducing increasingly repressive measures to force religion under the control of the Chinese Communist Party, including the introduction of stringent new regulations in February 2020 that placed CPP approved officials in all Church management committees.