Chinese church forced to meet outdoors after landlord refuses to renew lease

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

A landlord has refused to renew the lease of a church in China's Hubei province, prompting the parishioners to conduct their meetings on the streets and in the homes of church members.

According to a report from China Aid, members of Yanji Christian Church began meeting outside earlier this year after government officials prohibited them from entering their building.

In December 2016, the Echeng District Religious Affairs Bureau sent a notice to inform the church that its services and religious activities have been banned. The bureau claimed that the services were conducted without government permission and further stated that the church will no longer be allowed to carry out any missionary programs in the area.

After the church's lease expired, the landlord refused to renew it. On several occasions, church members experienced harassment while meeting outdoors, as people hired by the authorities threw firecrackers at them and doused them with mud.

Communist Party officials have been suspected of pressuring landlords to terminate contracts of unregistered churches.

In Guangdong province, a landlord decided to evict a church, which had been reportedly harassed by officials for not joining the state-sanctioned Three-Self Church.

When the pastor of the church, Ma Ke, asked about the decision to terminate the contract, the landlord said that he had been visited several times by the police.

In September 2015, Ma had been forced from his personal residence after a landlord decided to end his contract. The landlord reportedly stated that he would rather pay the liquidated fees rather than face continued police pressure.

Ma was also rejected when he tried to renew his Guangzhou residential permit online. China Aid noted that other church members were also barred from renewing their permits, which is required when obtaining driver's licenses or purchasing new cars.

The Chinese government has been intensifying its crackdown on churches ahead of the implementation of the new set of revisions to the Regulation on Religious Affairs, which is expected to go into effect in February.

Earlier this year, an organization with links to the Chinese Communist Party unveiled a new document detailing plans on how the government can enforce its restrictions on churches, including forced registration with state-run Christian institution.

Under the new program, churches that refuse to register with the state-run Three-Self Patriotic Movement will be banned. Churches that have been deemed by the public security and religious affairs bureau as "illegal religious organizations, organizations influenced or controlled by foreign powers intending to infiltrate [the country], or [religious] gathering places that broke the laws or are under the control of cults," will be shut down.