Chinese authorities shut down four unregistered churches

(Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon)Believers take part in a weekend mass at an underground Catholic church in Tianjin November 10, 2013.

Four unregistered churches were recently shut down in China's north-central Gansu province for allegedly violating the country's Religious Affairs Regulations.

China Aid reported that local authorities in Lanzhou had shut down three churches within a month of each other, prompting some worshippers to gather in private residences.

An unnamed parishioner said that government officials wanted them to worship at a church registered with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, a Protestant organization affiliated with the government and closely monitored by the Communist Party. The government appoints Three-Self pastors, allowing it to censor sermons and insert Communist propaganda.

One other church in the city had been issued a notice to shut down back in February for organizing religious activities without registering with the government. In early March, members of Enyu Church tried to negotiate with local officials, but the religious affairs and public security bureaus banded together with a neighborhood governmental committee to carry out a raid on the church and shut it down.

The bureaus argued that the church failed to comply with the Religious Affairs Regulations and Fire Safety Regulations by conducting its meetings without permission from the government. A church member asserted that the local officials had cited fire safety as justification to shut down the church.

"Before we shut down the church, officers from the religious affairs and national security bureaus visited several times, telling us that our fire facilities were incomplete and that there were potential fire hazards. They were just finding excuses to close the church," the unnamed church member said, according to China Aid.

Officially registered churches have also been targeted by the government in its crackdown on religion.

Last month, authorities in Jiangxi province tore down the cross from the top of a church registered with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement.

A demolition team was dispatched to remove the cross from the top of Shaxi Church on Feb. 22 after its members refused to voluntarily take down the symbol.

A group of 20 female church members tried to block the path of the demolition team by linking their arms together, but the officials were able to get past them.

The local religious affairs bureau had later decided to allow the church to construct a smaller cross but the symbol would only be placed on the wall of the building, not on top.

The authorities often try to justify the cross demolitions by saying the structure violates building codes. Demolition crews are sometimes sent in the middle of the night to avoid confrontation with church members.

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